Carol Emory & John Wingate
Gennaro A. DeVito
& Merrill J. Meltz
Rachelle & Stewart Owen
Deborah Dashow Ruth
STARTS November 2
- In The News
- Program Notes
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and playwright, and former Berkeley resident, Thornton Wilder, was an accomplished master of the short play form, specifically creating works to be staged in thrust spaces, like Aurora’s. Founding Artistic Director Barbara Oliver returns to direct this program of four of Wilder’s greatest short works, including The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden (1931), which features the first appearance of Wilder’s narrating Stage Manager character (seen later in his best known play, Our Town), andThe Long Christmas Dinner (1931), perhaps Wilder’s most famous one-act, in which he breaks the boundaries of time as we measure it, following 90 years of one extended family’s holiday dinners. The evening will also include two selections from Wilder’s The Ages of Man series, Infancy and Childhood..
Runtime: Approximately 2 hours 15 minutes including one 10 minute intermission.
San Francisco Chronicle
San Jose Mercury News/Bay Area News Group
East Bay Express
Bay Area Reporter
My Cultural Landscape
- Heather Gordon - Ensemble
- Søren Oliver* - Ensemble
- Marcia Pizzo* - Ensemble
- Stacy Ross* - Ensemble
- Patrick Russell* - Ensemble
- Brian Trybom - Ensemble
- Gwen Kingston - Acting Intern
- Dave Garrett - Understudy
- Kevin Johnson* - Stage Manager
- Jim Cave - Lighting Designer
- Eric Sinkkonen - Set Designer
- Maggi Yule - Costume Designer
- Chris Houston - Sound Designer/Music Director
- Mia Baxter - Props Artisan
- Seren Helday - Props Artisan
- Catalina Nino - Set Design Assistant
- Jimmy Walden - Assistant Director/Dramaturg
- Lisa Anne Porter - Dialect Coach
by Josh Costello, Literary Manager
"My earlier one-act plays, before Our Town, were free of scenery too and things went back and forth in time. . . In my plays I attempted to raise ordinary daily conversation between ordinary people to the level of the universal human experience.”
-Thornton Wilder in an interview with Bob McCoy, 1974
As a student at Berkeley High in 1915, Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) was already writing plays. He would go on to win Pulitzer Prizes for Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) — as well as for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), making him the only writer to win the Pulitzer in both Fiction and Drama. Educated at Yale and Princeton and a lecturer at Harvard and other universities, Wilder considered himself a teacher as much as a writer. His immediate family members were similarly accomplished; his father was the US Consul General to Hong Kong and Shanghai, and his brother and sisters all became professors and writers as well.
He lived in Hamden, Connecticut for most of his adult life, but he traveled often to work as a teacher, to serve in the Army Air Force Intelligence during World War II, and to visit his many friends around the US and abroad. Wilder never wrote about his experience as a gay man coming of age in the first half of the twentieth century; he seems never to have had a long-term partner. He did have a generous supply of friends — including Gertrude Stein, with whom he corresponded regularly, and Ernest Hemingway.
Though best known for Our Town, Wilder found tremendous success throughout his long career. His play The Matchmaker opened on Broadway in 1955 and played for 486 performances before being adapted into the musical Hello, Dolly! in 1964. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 and the National Book Committee’s Medal for Literature in 1965. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1953 and on a US stamp on the centenary of his birth in 1997. He wrote the screenplay for the 1942 Hitchcock movie The Shadow of a Doubt. But Thornton Wilder was also a master of the short play. Wilder Times takes four of his best short plays and puts them together in a single evening.
Infancy and Childhood — comprising the first act of Wilder Times — were written for Plays for Bleecker Street at the Circle in the Square Theater in New York in 1962, directed by Jose Quintero. Both plays showcase Wilder’s imaginative use of experimental theatrical conventions to explore the inner life of his characters; in this case, the inner life of children. It is characteristic of Wilder’s unique voice that these plays elicited comparisons to Brecht and Beckett alongside delight and laughter. The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden was first produced and published in 1931, and remains one of Wilder’s most popular plays. It is notable for introducing the character of the Stage Manager, who appears again in Our Town. Wilder wrote The Long Christmas Dinner in 1931 as well, and it is among his most celebrated and influential works. A.R. Gurney’s The Dining Room (1981) was directly inspired by The Long Christmas Dinner, as was newcomer Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal (2011). “If God were to dabble in anthropology,” writes Jeremy McCarter in the New York Times in 2007, “and the recording angels to write with wry humor and infinite tolerance of human folly, this is how the holy books would read.” Wilder himself wrote, “Of all my plays it is the one that has found the widest variety of receptions. At some performances it has been played to constant laughter; some listeners are deeply moved and shaken by it; some find it cruel and cynical (‘What? The dead are forgotten so soon?’)”
In these four plays, as in Our Town, Wilder is doing what all great writers ultimately do —finding access to the universal through a sharp-eyed exploration of the particular. Furthermore, he is using the unique possibilities of theatre to crack open the human experience in novel ways. “Wilder’s lack of scenery and other brazenly theatrical devices are all ways of escaping the literal and picayune, of stretching theater as far as an engaged audience’s imagination can take it,” continues McCarter in the New York Times. “The uncanny result is plays that pursue the emotional aims of Chekhov with the adventurous theatricality of Brecht.”