May 5th, 2008

Our Town

Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?

Stage Manager: No—Saints and poets maybe—they do some. (Our Town, Thornton Wilder, Act III)

I saw this play twice this week because Syd had a small part. He played Wally Gibbs, a kid who is not allowed to read at the table, who only smokes two or three cigarettes a year, who dies of appendicitis on a Boy Scout trip. He has one petulant line in which he complains that he needs to know all about Canada for school, but otherwise moves through the first two acts silently. He spends the third act like the rest of the town’s dead, sitting still in a chair.

I had never seen the play before, never read it. I now have a copy to peruse at my leisure. Someday, when the kid who played the Stage Manager is famous, I’ll be able to say I saw him perform when he was in high school, young and perfect.

I saw the fall play as well, a mildly funny rendition of You Can’t Take It With You, which left me totally unprepared for the beauty of this performance. I did not expect to be touched.

That’s the thing about plays, and about life, really. It touches you when you least expect it. Sitting in a crowded theater in a folding chair perched on risers that probably usually hold fidgety choir members or the brass section of the band, I didn’t expect to find, in the pool of light in front of me, art that cracks open the world.

There was a girl sitting two people over from me. She jiggled her legs up and down so energetically for the entire second act that the risers all shook. A kid in one of the overflow chairs by the door looked at the lit screen of his cell phone. The girl with Down syndrome in the front row giggled at the cues of her own private script.

The students on stage took their bows. Saturday was closing night. They finished and scattered temporarily, until the cast party and the keg or the purloined bottles of this and that gathered them in again. The director went home to take his back medicine and lie flat. Syd ate a banana. I went to sleep between the blue sheets, wondering how the saints and poets stand it.