MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And with the holiday season upon us, we're bringing you our annual show on traditions. We'll turn next to a tried and true theatrical tradition, one that's gone on for 75 years on countless stages nationwide.
MR. PAUL NEWMAN
This play is called "Our Town." It was written by Thornton Wilder, and is being produced here by the Westport Country Playhouse. Name of the town, Grovers Corner, New Hampshire, just over the line from Massachusetts.
Yes, we're talking about that 1938 American classic, "Our Town." This particular production dates back to 2003. That's Paul Newman playing the role of the Stage Manager, the narrator of the three act show. But starting December 19th at Theater J in northwest D.C., audiences will be treated to a world premiere play that takes Wilder's tradition and gives it more than one twist.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
So, this play is called "Our Suburb." It was written by Darrah Cloud. It is her response to a play with a similar title by Thornton Wilder, which she has seen a lot.
"Our Suburb" takes place not in Grovers Corners, but in Skokie, Illinois in 1976 and 1977, the same time as a famous attempted march by a group of Neo-Nazis, an event which figures heavily in Darrah Cloud's story. "Our Suburb" is directed by Judith Ivey, a Tony Award winning actress who's also directed quite a bit for the stage. I recently sat down with her after a rehearsal and she told me what drew her to Cloud's play.
MS. JUDITH IVEY
I'm a huge Thornton Wilder fan, and it obviously the structure of "Our Town" is what Darrah used to write "Our Suburb." And I thought the way she reinvented it was just fantastic. And a lot of the themes that she brought up, that are a little more modern concerns in our world, were quite astounding. Namely the suburb was supposed to be the safe haven for the world when everyone left the big cities to go live in the suburbs. And, sure enough, the suburbs have just as much danger and, let's say, depravity going on as in the cities.
MS. JUDITH IVEY
So, I thought that was an interesting take, which is, of course, "Our Town." Thornton Wilder is saying, you know, these sweet little, sleepy little towns, there's a lot more going on than we all choose to recognize. And Thornton is the girl, and she lives in a house that is in front of the house of Ricky Edelman. And they meet and kind of fall in love on the bus. I guess the way George and Emily fall in love at the soda shop in "Our Town."
MR. RICKY EDELMAN
You go to college?
MS. THORNTON MAJORS
East, maybe, Yale, Wesley, Cornell, or Brown. I could go west, but I'm not sure if people read there. Going north would be stupid, and people in the south seem kind of slow.
My mom goes to Northwestern.
My mom went there.
How come you don't want to go there?
And Ricky is from a Jewish family, and in the case of Thornton, a family who is a Christian family. And here they fall in love and what does that mean to the families? So, they're dealing with a lot of levels that Thornton Wilder never dealt with, really. And then we have a Stage Manager. She's really our guide through the play, just like in "Our Town." But our Stage Manager is a young woman, not an elderly man. And in this case, she reveals that she's going to play the two younger sisters, one in each family, because Ms. Cloud wrote way too many character for a theater the size of Theater J to afford to hire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2
Due to the fact that the playwright wrote way too many roles for a small theater to be able to afford, tonight I will simultaneously be playing Lisa Edelman and Ann Majors, younger siblings. I'm not getting paid extra.
So, it's fun watching her run back and forth and become Annie Majors, who is Thornton's little sister, and Lisa Edelman, who is Ricky's little sister.
So, it isn't just a scene by scene parallel of "Our Town." Darrah keeps you guessing.
I'm discovering that, since we're in the middle of rehearsal. But yeah, it isn't just let me mimic it. She takes it beyond what Thornton Wilder did, which is, it has a more active thrust rather than a reflective thrust. A lot of "Our Town" is looking back. I mean, literally, she comes back from the dead and says, I wanna go back and picks her 16th birthday. In this case, she wants to go forward and see the future.
Five years from now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3
You can't pick the future.
Well, I was always too aware to be happy in the present.
I need to go somewhere where I don't know what will happen next.
There's no part for you to play then. You're not there. You've been written out.
I don't care. I want to see how it all turns out. I want to see my mom and find out if she found true love and the right career.
Morning or afternoon?
Cocktail hour, in case she's still drinking, I want to be able to talk to her.
She won't be able to hear you. You have no lines.
All right. All right. Just get me there.
Do you think audiences will have a different experience if say, you know, the man who's never seen "Our Town," but his wife has seen "Our Town," they're both watching "Our Suburb." Will they have different experiences of the show?
Probably. I am curious whether you even have to know "Our Town." I actually don't think you do. I think "Our Suburb" stands on its own. It doesn't need a reference like that. If you do know "Our Town," then it will -- certainly, there will be echoes of it and moments where you will recognize it. I don't know how well people, you know, know "Our Town." I know it because I'm studying it along with "Our Suburb," and I was in it when I was in college and played Emily. So, I know it fairly well.
So you played Emily in college?
Yes. I was -- I went to Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. And it was our American College Theater Festival entry. I know we made it all the way to states or however they measured that. But we didn't come to Washington, D.C., where it always ends, in Washington, D.C., as a matter of fact.
Have you had other experience in Washington, either as an actor or as a director?
Yes. Washington, D.C. figures very heavily in my career. Beginning with that story right there, I was in a play in Chicago that came to D.C. when I was 23. And it was at the National Theater. Then, I decided to leave Chicago and move to New York, and the first job I got was at the Folger Library Theater in D.C., so I came down here and did "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" And then I came back to the arena and did "Design For Living," and I've been here at the Kennedy Center. So I've been here a lot as an actress. This is my first directing job here.
It sounds like D.C.'s been very good to you.
It's been very good to me. I love Washington, D.C. I love the atmosphere of it and the tone of it. It's very calming to me. Maybe if I was politics, I wouldn't feel that way, but it's a great theater town, I think.
That was Judith Ivey, director of "Our Suburb," running December 19th through January 12th at Theater J. You can find more information about the world premiere play on our website, metroconnection.org.
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