November 14, 2010

Giving Thanks

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As Thanksgiving Break approaches and many Cornell students engross themselves in their studies, The Schwartz Center is showing a play commenting on the simple joys of life. It was a welcome break from prelim studying to see a show emphasizing to appreciate life.

Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Our Town follows the lives of the residents of a small New Hampshire town in the early 20th century. The play is divided into three acts named Daily Life, Love and Marriage, and Death and Eternity. The play focuses on the cycle of life and death, highlighting the progression of two main characters George Gibbs (James Miller, ’12) and Emily Webb (Erin Wagner, ’11). The two characters’ relationship and their experiences stress the perils and delights in life, love and death.  The play also focuses on dealing with limitations and expectations of the time period, as well as the challenge to break free from the seemingly boring and repetitive cycle of daily life.

George Gibbs and Emily Webb start off as family friends and neighbors and their love grows over the course of the play. They begin to fall for each other in their teenage years when they develop a somewhat superficial and juvenile relationship. The couple ends up getting married young and starting a family, giving up on their dreams of achieving anything greater than what their parents did. They follow in the pattern of many of the residents of Grover’s Corners.

When Emily dies during childbirth, she enters a post-death limbo state where she can go back and visit any day in her life. She chooses to visit one of her teenaged birthdays and ends up extremely depressed. She realizes how much she took for granted when she was alive, and all of the wonderful things in her life, mostly her family members, that she should have appreciated more. After this visit, she decides she never wants to relive another day in her life again. Emily says, “They don’t understand,” commenting on how those who are living do not know how great their lives are until they die.

The three acts are connected by the character of the Stage Manager (played by Prof. Michael Kaplan, Theater, Film & Dance). Wilder uses the device of meta-theatre in the play, setting the Stage Manager in a 1930s theatre. The Stage Manager introduces the town of Grover’s Corners as a setting, and all of its residents as characters in another play. He gives a somewhat satirical commentary on all that occurs in Grover’s Corners and on the lives of the protagonists.

Although seemingly complicated to understand a play about a play, the cast and crew of Our Town do not fail to make the play easily comprehensible. The Stage Manager, even when playing townspeople in Grover’s Corner, as so often does, makes the many characters he plays clear. The set and prop pieces make it obvious when the play is occurring distinct from when the play within the play occurs.

The use of technology also contributes the comprehensible and aesthetically pleasing set of the show. The technology includes projections and live-streaming video of the show across the cyclorama. This display adds to the absorbing feel of the production, which is similarly created by the intimacy of the theater and the cast.

The acting in the show was great and extremely truthful to the setting. It serves as a challenge to act in a different time period and to adopt the mannerisms of people of that time. Talking in proper accents also serve as a challenge, yet all of the characters flawlessly spoke with New England twangs.

In relation the main theme of the play, the celebration of life, Ithaca residents and Cornell community members are encouraged to share their family’s history from the early 20th century and their experience in Ithaca, as well as their views of the show, on a banner in the lobby of the Schwartz or at

Take a break from studying and go see Our Town, and then share about your family and what you love about life. The play is sure to have you thinking about what you value in life, and remind you to appreciate friends and family. You will certainly take the Stage Manager’s advice, “You’ve got to love life to have life, and you’ve got to have life to love life.”

Original Author: Hannah Kupfer