Both the director, Thomas Weaver, and lead actor, David Zayas, separately describe Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “Our Town,” as a play that grasps appreciation for life in its entirety— the mundane and the extraordinary, the difficult and the rewarding. The play, as Zayas describes it, is “simple, but surprising with how deeply it resonates.”
“Our Town,” written in 1938, is a work that is “aware of itself as a play,” Weaver says. Focusing on two families that live in the small town of Grover’s Corners, N.H., in the early 1900s, the play follows the everyday life and death of a community and how that community deals with the emotions that come with both.
Zayas calls the play “a study of life,” which happens to focus on a particular time and place. However, Gamut’s production treats Grover’s Corners as a town just like any other town and the people representative of any people in any time or place. Zayas continues by saying that it is more than a specific story about a specific moment in time—it is a story that shows “what it is to be a human being.”
Because the play is about everyday moments in life, Gamut’s production is as an interactive, meta experience.
Zayas plays the role of the “stage manager,” a character who operates in multiple dimensions: a director of sorts to the action of the play and to the actors, a narrator of the play to the audience, and a bridge that creates a sense of harmony between the two. Through his direction, Weaver makes this possible by having the actors present on stage throughout the course of the play, even when they are “off-stage,” effectively calling into question all of the conventions audiences accept when seeing a play.
“What [Weaver] has been doing is taking a look at elements of theater that we take for granted,” Zayas said. “We know in our minds that there is a back-stage area where the actors go when they leave the stage, and they aren’t that character anymore, but we don’t have to think about it. But here, the actors are with the audience for the entire show, and when any particular actor is not playing their character, they return to an exposed backstage area where they are enjoying the show with the rest of the audience.”
This transparency is intended to make the experience of seeing a play have unity with both the actors and the audience, where every person in the room is experiencing the same story together, a concept the script itself encourages audiences to realize. That is, the importance of every moment in life as both beautiful and meaningful.
Even in something as simple as going to see a play in a theater, “Our Town” calls attention to the fact that every person has a role to play in the telling of the story, and that role shapes the purpose and meaning of the play, whether you are an audience member, a director or an actor on the stage. Weaver states that the purpose of Wilder’s play is to highlight shared humanity.
“We may be watching a story about people who were alive in the early 1900s, but these people are still alive with us today,” he said. “They are our ancestors, and a part of them is within us, the same way generations from now will carry us with them.”
In the words of the character of the stage manager: “There is something eternal about every human being.”
This is why, in order to appreciate the role we all play in life, Weaver has chosen to depict the play in minimal terms. There are few traditional lighting effects, there is no scenery, and the actors create the sound effects on stage and mime items instead of physically holding them.
“This requires the audience to fill in all of those blank spaces with their imaginations,” Weaver said. “It engages you as an audience member in totally different ways. We don’t answer the questions for you. We simply present the story, and it is up to you to decide what that looks like.”
Sincerity is Weaver’s guiding concept for the production. Zayas agrees that the play is nothing if not sincere.
“At its core, the play speaks to what it means and what is beautiful about being a human being in this world of other human beings, more pointedly than other stories,” he said. “And it has changed my outlook on day-to-day life in a way that no other play has.”
Weaver responded similarly.
“When approached in a matter-of-fact way, you recognize that Wilder is ultimately saying we don’t have a lot of time while we’re here, and it’s impossible for us to appreciate every single moment we experience,” he said. “But even though we don’t have a lot of time, we have to try. That, to me, is where the beauty of the play exists.”
In the play, one character has an opportunity to relive a moment in her life, and she says, “It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.” In producing this play, the goal is to take a moment to stop, appreciate and watch a representation of life, participate in the moment of the production, and be reminded of the beauty of existence.
Zayas stated that he hopes audiences leave with “a sense of appreciation for the feeling of their hands clapping together, the breath that they’re using in laughter, and the person they’re sitting next to as they are watching the show.”
“And I hope that appreciation lasts even as they leave the theater and drive home,” he said.
Both Weaver and Zayas, believe that “Our Town” puts a new perspective on life and living, and they are excited to share that experience with others.
“Our Town” runs Feb. 10 to 25 at Gamut Theatre, 15 N. 4th St., Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-238-4111 or visit www.gamuttheatre.org.
UPCOMING THEATRE EVENTS
AT HARRISBURG’S PROFESSIONAL
At Gamut Theatre
By Thornton Wilder
Feb. 10 to 25
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Doors and bar open one hour prior to performance.
TMI Improv Show
Doors and bar open at 6:30 and will remain open throughout the event.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online or at the door.
At Open Stage of Harrisburg
“The Vagina Monologues”
By Eve Ensler
Feb. 2, 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 4 at 2 p.m.
A feminist tour de force about the forbidden zone.
“Akeelah and the Bee”
By Cheryl L. West, based on the works of Doug Atchison
Feb. 16 to March 11
A bright young girl from the South Side of Chicago trains to achieve a championship at the National Spelling Bee.