This is the first time I've seen OUR TOWN in person. My daughter gave me tickets for Christmas 2009 to see the acclaimed production directed by David Cromer, but I was sick the night of the show and so my daughter took a friend of hers instead.
Ironically the first time I saw OUR TOWN, I was home sick from work and caught the public television recording of the Lincoln Center Theater production directed by Gregory Mosher with Spalding Gray as the Stage Manager. Maybe because that was the first production I've seen, and maybe because I'm a playwright, but I think the Mosher/Gray version is right way to do the play.
Frank Rich gave the production a fairly critical review, but then he doesn't seem to actually like the play itself very much:
As prettied up by Wilder, the sleepy Republican town of Grover's Corners, N.H., from 1901 to 1913, seems to say less about the country we live in now than does the earlier New England of 18th- and 19th-century literature. As an example of American playwriting of the 1930's, ''Our Town'' is closer in weight to Kaufman and Hart than to O'Neill.But you can't win with Rich because although he thinks the town of the play is "prettied up" he complains the production's aesthetic isn't pretty enough:
With such stylization, Mr. Mosher seems to be attempting to justify his unadventurous saunter into ''Our Town'' by linking it to such other Lincoln Center productions of the year as ''Waiting for Godot'' and ''Speed-the-Plow.'' This esthetic statement is made at a price, because it has led to one major casting miscalculation, Spalding Gray's flip Stage Manager, that constantly disrupts the fragile text, the firm staging and the otherwise well-chosen cast.Rich couldn't be more wrong. This isn't "unadventurous" at all. In fact I would say it is adventurous to do what Mosher did - stick to the text for once. American directors seem to think that it is their duty to make each and every play their bitch, tarting them up with pointless intrusions, just to put their personal stamp on it. It's this way of thinking that led the loathsome Edward Einhorn (with the full support of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society) to make a legal claim that since he directed the second production of my play TAM LIN all subsequent productions owed him a royalty.
But back to OUR TOWN. Spalding Gray had just exactly the right demeanor as the stage manager - dry and matter-of-fact. He was very upset by Rich's claim that he was too post-modernist and mentioned that in one of his monologues.
One of my complaints about the show I saw last night was the way the Stage Manager was played - too emotional, even maudlin at times, and too much a part of the town, rather than the meta-observer he should be. Although at least the actor could do a New England dialect when he wanted to and a standard American dialect the rest of the time. (Not an issue for Spalding Gray in any case since he is a native of New England.) But the rest of the cast was all over the place, dialect-wise: some used their native Lon Guyland dialect and some sounded like they thought Grover's Corners was in Alabama. I would rather they stuck with their own native dialects, even if it was Long Island.