WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

'Our Suburb' Responds To An American Theater Classic

Play associated audio
"Our Suburb" premieres at Theater J on December 19.
Courtesy of Theater J
"Our Suburb" premieres at Theater J on December 19.

Thornton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town is a tried-and-true theatrical tradition that’s been carried on, on countless stages nationwide, since 1938. 75 years later, playwright Darrah Cloud is putting a new spin on that old tradition, with her world-premiere show, Our Suburb.

Our Suburb takes place not in Grovers Corners in the early 20th century, but in Skokie, Illinois, in 1976 and 1977 — the same time as that famous attempted march by the neo-Nazis, which figures heavily in the play.

Judith Ivey is directing the play at Theater J in Northwest Washington. She says what drew her to the play is how Darrah Cloud took Our Town, and reinvented it.

“A lot of the themes she brought up are a little more modern concerns in our world,” Ivey says. “Namely that the suburb was supposed to be the safe haven when everyone left the big cities. And sure enough the suburbs had just as much danger and depravity as in the cities.”

Similarly, she says, “in Our Town, Thornton Wilder says [with] these sweet, sleepy little towns, there’s a lot more going on than we choose to recognize.”

Ivey says Cloud throws in even more complexity with the two main characters: Thornton Majors and Ricky Edelman, who meet and fall in love on a city bus, a la Emily and George at the soda fountain in Our Town.

“And Ricky is from a Jewish family, and Thornton is from a Christian family,” Ivey says. “And here they fall in love and what does that mean for the families? So they’re dealing with a lot of levels that Thornton Wilder never dealt with, really.”

Another similarity — and difference — between the two plays is the role of the stage manager. Traditionally, this head-narrator role has been played by an older man. Not this time.

“But our stage manager is a young woman,” says Ivey. “And she reveals she’s going to play the two younger sisters, one in each family, because Ms. Cloud wrote way too many characters for a theater the size of Theater J to afford to hire!”

Something else that fascinates Ivey is the way Cloud’s play “has a more active thrust rather than reflective. A lot of Our Town is looking back. Literally, [Emily] comes back from the dead and says I want to go back, and picks her 16th birthday. In this case, [Thornton] comes back and wants to go forward and see the future.”

Ivey says she has a special appreciation for how “daring” Darrah Cloud is.

“It’s not ‘Let’s just see what Wilder did and what’s the 1977 suburban matchup,’” Ivey explains, but rather, “’let’s throw the cards in the air and let them fall differently and ask different questions.’”

Our Suburb runs at Theater J December 19, 2013 – January 12, 2014.

[Music: "Our Town" by Aaron Copland from The Copland Collection]

NPR

For A Female Banker At The Top Of Her Game, What Does It Take To Stay There?

In the film Equity, investment banker Naomi Bishop navigates the male-dominated world of Wall Street. Screenwriter Amy Fox discusses the film and her research, which included many interviews with women who worked on Wall Street.
NPR

Salvage Supperclub: A High-End Dinner In A Dumpster To Fight Food Waste

The ingredients — think wilted basil, bruised plums, garbanzo bean water — sound less than appetizing. Whipped together, they're a tasty meal that show how home cooks can use often-tossed foods.
NPR

LISTEN: At The DNC, We Asked Women Why They Were Voting For Clinton

We asked women — as young as 4 and as old as 77 — how much the weight of history factored into their decision.
NPR

New Reports Of Hackers In Democratic Party Computer Systems

The Clinton campaign says its systems were not hit but that a program it uses was in the party's compromised system. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was also hacked.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.