Thornton Wilder placed his tale of "Our Town" in Grover's Corners, N.H., an imaginary New England village where every resident was a white, middle-class Protestant. He wrote the timeless story and Pulitzer Prize winner in 1938. Seventy-five years later, the evolution of man's life from birth to death remains the same; only the characters have changed.
Among the company of actors are a real-life couple, Craig Wallace and Kimberly Schraf, playing Charles and Myrtle Webb, parents of Emily, who falls in love with the boy next door, George Gibbs. Portia, a female actor, is the Stage Manager, a role originally written for a male narrator.
"Wilder loved experimentation, and I hope he would have wanted directors to experiment with his play in this way," Wallace said. "Just as in the original version, there are no props, and the sets are minimal because he wanted the audience to listen to his words."
"There is a moment in the play when the Stage Manager, a powerful and beautiful African-American woman, speaks to people a thousand years from now," Schraf said. "She invites them to see this play and discover how people of these times lived, loved, married and died. The themes resonate because the story is so iconic. The audience members will notice many moments when they recognize themselves being attracted to someone, falling in love and losing them to death."
|Where: Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW|
|When: Through Feb. 24|
|Info: $15 to $62; 202-347-4833; fords.org|
The goal of the Ford's production is to portray human conditions that transcend differences in culture. To bring the plot into the present and make it timeless, references to historical events used in the original play have been stripped out. Another modern factor is that the Webbs have a white daughter who falls in love with and marries a young man of color.
Both Wallace and Schraf were drawn to Washington early in their careers and have remained because of the outstanding theater community. A native of Rochester, N.Y., Wallace graduated from Howard University, received a master's degree in fine arts at Penn State and studied further at the Royal National Theatre in London. After returning to Washington, he was for many years a member of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, where he played most of the bard's major characters.
"This production reminds us why we come to the theater. It's a beautiful piece that is moving, funny, and invites audiences to enjoy themselves and use their imagination," Wallace said.