To open its 50th season, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre will stage a production that aims to draw participation from the entire New Haven community.
“Our Town,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Thornton Wilder, a member of Yale’s Class of 1920, opens tonight at Long Wharf. Written in 1938, the three-act play follows the daily lives of average citizens over the course of 12 years in the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Gordon Edelstein, the show’s director, said that the theater chose to stage the play largely for its emphasis on the themes of family and community.
“The play is an extremely deep meditation on the ephemerality of life,” Edelstein said. “[Wilder]’s tactic in the play is to juxtapose the quotidian, everyday stuff of our lives with the backdrop of eternity.”
To celebrate the theater’s 50th anniversary, the production team chose to cast only members of the local community and actors who had already performed at Long Wharf in the past. Edelstein explained that he also chose to include several dozen New Haven residents in the production who will stand on stage throughout the performance. He added that he believes the casting decision is unusual in that he does not know of any previous productions of ‘Our Town’ that has employed a cast of this size. Myra Lucretia Taylor ’81, who plays the stage manager character in the play, added that she thinks the production’s multi-ethnic cast reflects the diverse population of New Haven.
Rey Lucas DRA ’04, who plays George Gibbs — one of the young lovers in “Our Town” — said that the ethnic diversity in the cast is important to him as an American actor of mixed background, noting that he thinks mixed race-actors rarely have the opportunity to work on classic “American” plays.
“A lot of theaters talk about their commitment to diversity, but Long Wharf puts their money where their mouth is,” Lucas said.
Taylor said she believes that “Our Town” teaches audience members to cherish the simple pleasures in life, such as dresses and shoes, adding that she hopes when people see the play they will leave with a greater appreciation for their lives and for the lives of their ancestors.
Lucas said he believes that “Our Town” is multi-layered, noting that everyone has a unique interpretation of the play based on their experiences in life.
“I read the play for the first time in high school, and didn’t really get much out of it at that time,” Lucas said. “Reading it now, years later, there’s so much in it. It’s kind of like a mirror and what you see in it is based on where you are in your life.”
The next Long Wharf production will be Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” which will open in November.