It feels arrogant to even try to write a review of David Cromer's production of Our Town, previously at the Barrow Street Theater in New York and now at the Almeida. The fact is that it's basically perfect. David Cromer understands Our Town, and translates that understanding into a deeply moving and perfectly simple production.
Our Town is a play that I lose track of sometimes. Like Romeo and Juliet, it starts to feel so over-discussed, so misinterpreted, so easy to over-simplify, that I find myself just riding the waves of what I'm pretty sure I know about it and forgetting what's actually there. Yes, it's a play I was utterly desperate to act in when I was about 14 and saw it as pretty much a vehicle for a super-sad monologue-- but it's more than that.
It's also a play that I think tends to take a beating when it comes to the question of "The Canon"-- because how much more insular and privileged can you get than a play that, apparently, is all about nostalgia for the good old days when everyone was Christian and white and married their high school sweetheart?
But a really good production, like this one, is a reminder that the play is more than that, too. I'm sure you can find plenty of things written by people much smarter than me about the cracks in the veneer-- Mrs. Gibbs' never-realized dream to see Paris, Simon Stimpson's drinking, all that death. But I think also there is the fact that nostalgia demands a homogeneity of audience that the play both assumes and rejects. On the one hand, the stage manager always addresses the audience with a homey, 'we're in this together,' feel. He says 'you know,' and 'you know what I'm talking about' a lot. We're assumed to be familiar with life in places like Grover's Corners, in theory.
But does that assumption spring from the fact that Thornton Wilder is assuming we, too, lived in somewhere like Grovers' Corners? Or just that we would recognize it, even if we're peering in from the outside? I found myself thinking this time through that maybe we're meant to bring the contradictions in with us. My ancestors sure as hell didn't live in Grover's Corners, they were busy on Ellis Island. But the play doesn't have to point it out for me to know it.
And, of course, none of these actors would live in Grover's Corners, either. All of the actors (American David Cromer as the Stage Manager included) employ their native accents, they are fairly racially diverse. They wear contemporary clothes. It's not about seeing yourself in them, or any pretense of universality. It's just a story.