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The mundane gets Wilder treatment


by: COURTESY PHOTO: PACIFIC UNIVERSITY - (Left to right) Olin Blackmore, Michael Johnson and Kailea Saplan bring ordinary characters to life in Thornton Wilders Our Town.Ordinary people’s ordinary lives are surprisingly complex and profound, as Thornton Wilder shows in his classic play, “Our Town,” which opens Thursday, March 14, at Pacific University’s Tom Miles Theater. (See calendar for details.)

Set at the beginning of the 20th century in a small town that could be a New England version of Forest Grove, the play covers nearly every dimension of the human experience, from childhood to love to marriage to death.

Written in 1938, Wilder's play is widely performed in high schools and universities, which are drawn to its coming-of-age characters and universal themes.

With the play’s emphasis on the ordinary, said Director and Pacific senior Gavin Knittle, 22, people might expect it to be boring, but it’s the ordinary which makes it so important.

“Many people take their existence and the existence of people around them for granted,” said Knittle, a Pacific Theater and Music major with an English-literature minor. “Ordinary human relationships are so potent.”

For example, “Everybody knows what it's like to have a really long conversation with someone, or the realization that you and another person have strong feelings for each other but are afraid to say so,” said Knittle.

The story explores tragedies, including parents’ pain after losing a child—and children’s after losing a parent. Deeper yet, the third act reveals an existential look at life as characters die and have the chance to reflect back on their lives.

“Whether it can help people connect with universal human circumstances or prepare for ones that might be coming,” said Knittle, “you come away from this play prepared for what life has to present.”

Knittle, who is also a trained opera-singer with plans to direct an opera at Pacific next year, said, “If you don't come away from this play with a greater awareness of how important your time alive is--with people or by yourself--then the play hasn't been presented effectively.”

To drive home the point, Wilder casts the set's stage manager as narrator whose job is to both transition characters from life to death and convey the play’s main message: Most people don't appreciate life as they're living it.