Hearing that a local theater is producing an homage to “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder is not a promising beginning. An attempt to write an homage to the quintessential American classic is a daunting task for any playwright, and the somewhat clunky title did little assuage my doubts. I was honestly prepared to be thoroughly underwhelmed by the reworking of the classic, especially considering that “Our Town” was, in a way, my first introduction to theater, and holds a very special place in my heart.
To put it bluntly, I stand corrected. “Our Suburb” not only far outshone its somewhat awkward title, it actually may have been even more emotionally impactful for me personally than “Our Town” was. That may have been because of the age of the protagonist throughout the show: Cloud’s Emily equivalent (though quite her own person), Thornton, was in the last stages of high school and about to possibly enter college before her untimely (or very timely) demise at the end of the second act.
It’s hard to put a finger on what it was about this play that hit me so hard. It certainly was, in many ways, much closer to my life than Wilder’s was. But it did manage to hit upon those points that resonated within the whole audience, except for apparently the somewhat soulless, bizarrely blasé writer of this Washington Post review. I could hear several people throughout the audience sobbing during the performance.
It’s like what Darah said during the talkback when I asked her why she chose to wrote her memories of Skokie, Illinois in the form of an homage to Wilder’s classic–“I couldn’t figure out why I loved it so much, and I didn’t want to love it.” When I first read “Our Town,” I didn’t really like it. I didn’t get it. I thought it was boring. But then I read it a few years later, and it suddenly became tragic and beautiful and way too real.
That’s how “Our Suburb” felt–so real that it was actually physically painful. I know those families and I’ve seen those houses. I’ve felt that way. I’ve had that conversation. There are some plays that take you out of yourself, and there are others that take you out and then shove you back in so hard that your bones rattle. That’s what this play did. I left it wanting to live my life, to go out and fall in love and do something and feel something and be something.
So this play was about suburbia, but to me, it was about a lot more than that. Like all the greats–Wilder, Miller, Williams–this one was about what it means to be human. It was about home and family, heartbreak and anger, loving people and losing people. I’ll probably never go to Skokie, but I’ll fall in love. I’ll have my heart broken. I’ll watch someone I love destroy themselves. I’ll lose home and find home and lose it again. And as interesting as American suburbia is, what impressed me was Cloud’s ability to capture these universal but also intensely personal moments. The vision of the director and the beautiful portrayals from the actors helped make it a reality.
It was by no means a perfect play. There were moment of clumsy language and flashes of unrealistic dialogue. But the play is still in the revision process, and the substance of it hit me in a way I didn’t anticipate. It wasn’t just “Our Town” updated for a suburban world, it was a play of its own that managed to hit the same beautiful, aching chords. I hope to see this play go very far–a New York run wouldn’t be amiss. I’d love the chance to see it again.