TAP brings Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” to stage

The first edition of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.”

Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s most renowned and most frequently performed play, will bring its minimalist approach and universal appeal to the stage of Third Avenue Playhouse as this spring’s StageKids production May 1 – 3.

Set in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire between 1901 and 1913, Our Town follows the lives of the town’s ordinary citizens, two families in particular, in a timeless story of the universal human experience. Since its premiere in 1938, Our Town has been performed consistently throughout the world.

The play will feature the talents of 23 local middle and high school aged students under the direction of TAP co-artistic director Bob Boles.

The focus of the play follows three central ideas in life, with each receiving its own act: daily life, love and marriage, death and dying. It opens with an introduction to Grover’s Corners by a Stage Manager, played by Boles, who acts as the play’s omniscient spokesman, providing humor, narration and commentary during the play and breaking what is often called the “fourth wall” of a theater by directly addressing the audience.

Wilder’s intentions were to use Our Town to demonstrate what he felt was a strength of theater – to help audiences realize life while they live it. This was achieved through his minimalist approach to the production – no scenery and minimal props, which marked his quest to make Grover’s Corners represent all towns throughout the world and its citizens to represent typical human experiences.

“The awkwardness of a first date, I think all of us can relate to,” Boles said. “Dealing with loss and dealing with the joy of a wedding. All of these elements are contained within the play.”

A kitchen table and two chairs represent the only set in Our Town while the production’s actors pantomime any action that would ordinarily rely on props, like preparing breakfast.

The rest relies on audience and actor imagination.

“The story becomes the most prominent thing,” Boles said. “You don’t have a lot of eye candy in scenery and costumes, but you do have this wonderful story that you’re following. The text is so beautifully written, it just brings all of that out even more so … when you strip away some of these elements, then the play is designed for your imagination to take over and fill in those items.”

The StageKids production will take advantage of TAP’s intimate smaller stage while providing an immersive experience for the audience by using the entire room.

“The audience itself becomes citizens of the town,” Boles said. “There is one scene where you have two high school students doing their homework on stage … on the right there will be about 15 people singing a hymn in choir practice, you look to the left and there is the choir master playing the organ.”

Although this year marks 77 years since the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama play was produced, Boles said its universal appeal rests in the simple story focused on everyday life.

That’s exactly how TAP volunteer George Roenning sees it. As a senior at Blair Academy in New Jersey who had never performed in a play before, Roenning recalls the coaching he received while playing one of Our Town’s main characters, also named George, during his school’s production in 1964.

It has been 51 years since he has seen the play but he believes the simple day-to-day experiences of its characters will translate well on TAP’s stage.

“Thornton Wilder is of course an excellent author,” Roenning said. “It’s cast in a small town and I think that people will be able to relate to that, plus it’s well written.

“Its universality is what will make it play well here,” he added.

Despite its longevity on high school and community theater stages, less than one-third of the students in the StageKids production of Our Town have actually seen it. Boles guesses that the appeal of it began to fade in the 1970s and 1980s when it began oversaturating theater departments’ playbills.

Fortunately the newness of it has contributed to the enthusiasm on the end of the students performing.

“The play itself is a real treasure, it’s a marvelous piece of theater,” he said. “The kids are just eating it up. It’s the type of play where they read it and they get it.

“It’s the universalness of the piece,” Boles added. “It hasn’t aged. It’s really a play that could have been written last week and it’s done all over the world so it translates into almost any language without explanation.”

Our Town will be performed May 1 – 3, Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30pm and Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2pm. General admission is $15, students age 12 – 24 are $10, and children age 11 and under are $5. To purchase tickets, visit, stop by the box office (234 N. Third Ave.) during designated hours (Tuesday – Friday, noon until 5pm) or call 920.743.1760.