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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.

*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers
Critics are saying
Aurora Theatre's ‘Wilder Times,’ a program of four one-acts by Thornton Wilder, is a showcase of versatile acting and whimsically inventive stagings.
- Robert Hurwitt
San Francisco Chronicle
Barbara Oliver directs [Wilder Times] with great finesse at the Aurora Theatre Company... these pieces are charmers... shot through with the homespun observations that make Wilder seem like a souvenir from a bygone era. Read Full Review »
- Karen D'Souza
San Jose Mercury News/Bay Area News Group
[Playwright Thornton] Wilder demonstrates so powerfully that length matters far less than emotionally charged, expertly sculpted content. We can experience nearly a century of life and death in a half an hour and the full breadth and complexity of a flawed, functional, loving family in one quick road trip. It’s genius, and it’s great theater. Read Full Review »
- Chad Jones
Every one of the six principals -- Heather Gordon, Marcia Pizzo, Søren Oliver, Stacy Ross, Patrick Russell and Brian Trybom... is a marvel to see and hear. If only as a vehicle for the actor's art, this Wilder Times is a lovely brightener for the holiday season. . .[These] works sparkle with wit and lively theatricality on Aurora Theatre's intimate stage in Berkeley. Read Full Review »
- Leo Stutzin
Huffington Post
Four engaging one-act plays by Thornton Wilder, the three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author, give us insight into Wilder’s view of the ways in which American families live and struggle... Add a terrific cast and wonderful direction by Barbara Oliver, and these plays come alive. Whether written in the 1930s or the 1960s, the Wilder Times one-act plays remain creative and fresh . . .Wilder Times is thought provoking, amusing, well acted and directed. What more can one ask from theater? Read Full Review »
- Emily S. Mendel
Now, through Dec. 9 at Berkeley’s Aurora Theater, in "Wilder Times," audiences have the opportunity to see how [playwright Thornton] Wilder was the master of the dramatic short form, creating one-act plays that elevate the apparently ordinary to make deeply moving observations about the human condition that apply to us all...the Aurora does an absolutely stellar job of staging this quartet of short plays. And director Barbara Oliver has selected the offerings well... Staged in the way Wilder intended -- with a minimalist set and the audience on three sides -- Aurora’s production [of Wilder Times] mirrors the deceptive simplicity of the dramas themselves. Read Full Review »
- Elaine Beale
Wilder Times is the perfect set of plays to kick off the holiday season—there’s something for everyone and definite fodder for the holiday table. Read Full Review »
- Rhonda Shrader
Dogmom’s Dish
Marvelously staged with cogency and humor under Barbara Oliver's deft direction, [Wilder Times] consider[s] the stages of life from infancy to old age, as they reveal family connections and disconnection among generations...brilliant...nothing changes and yet everything does... Part of what makes Wilder Times so effective is the smart use of smart. Read Full Review »
- Erika Milvy
East Bay Express
...exquisitely written and presented... such is the precision of Wilder's words, and with the finely tuned performances under Oliver's direction, we tumble into the deceptively simple lives being led onstage. Read Full Review »
- Richard Dodd
Bay Area Reporter
Doing four plays at once means a lot of actors playing a lot of roles, and this is one of Wilder Times' greatest pleasures... Taken as a whole, Wilder Times makes for a fair quadriptych of the human drama, exploring the way we experience aging and time's flow - its marches, loops and cessations. Wilder nails the exterior absurdities, hilarities and follies of midcentury American life... Read Full Review »
- Alex Bigman
SF Appeal
Aurora Theatre is currently offering a vibrant production of four Wilder one-acts... taken together they provide further insight into [playwright Thornton Wilder's] iconoclastic dramaturgical style. . .Ably directed by Aurora's co-founder, Barbara Oliver, an ensemble of seven excellent actors navigates [Wilder Times] at a lively clip. Read Full Review »
- Charles Brousse
Pacific Sun
[Director Barbara] Oliver has organized these slices of the human condition in a way that gives them harmony, both in content and stylishness. Her sure-handed direction is strongly supported by a superb cast that beautifully morphs from playing babies to children to adolescence to adults.
- Richard Connema
Talkin’ Broadway
[Wilder Times] is a beautiful piece of intimate ensemble work whose subtle touches demand to be seen. Read Full Review »
- George Heymont
My Cultural Landscape
[Wilder Times is] bittersweet and inventive and touching, beautifully played... Read Full Review »
- Sam Hurwitt
The Idiolect
  • 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
BRIAN TRYBOM (Moe, Father, The Stage Manager, Charles) is thrilled to be making his Aurora Theatre Company debut. Originally from Santa Cruz, he is a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatics Arts, NY. Most recently he appeared with 915 Cayuga as part of the 2012 SF Fringe Festival. Other Bay Area credits include; True West, Fool For Love, and The Glass Menagerie, with Boxcar Theatre; Julius Caesar, The Winters Tale, and Much Ado About Nothing, with Marin Shakespeare Company; Marat/Sade with Thrillpeddlers; Hermes with No Nude Men Productions, An Affair of Honor with The Exit Theater, and Las Meninas with San Jose Repertory, among others.
GWEN KINGSTON Gwen Kingston (Acting Intern: Lucia, nurse) is performing for the first time on the Aurora Stage. Gwen is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley's department of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies where she appeared on the mainstage in Ishi: The Last of the Yahi, An Ideal Husband, Our Town, Silence and the original production of I Dream of Chang and Eng. Other credits include Oleanna and The Grapes of Wrath at 6th Street Playhouse, and A Midsummer Nights Dream, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, On the Road and A Christmas Carol all with Sonoma County Rep. Gwen is a founding member of FaultLine Theater in the East Bay.
HEATHER GORDON (Miss Wilchick, Dodie, Caroline, Leonora), a North Bay native, is thrilled to be marking her Aurora Theatre Company debut. Heather completed Harvard University/American Repertory Theater's M.F.A. program in 2010. Favorite roles include Oberon/Mia in The Donkey Show, (A.R.T. Mainstage, With two-time Tony award winning Director Diane Paulus),
MARCIA PIZZO* (Caroline, Beulah, Lucia, Ermengarde) is pleased to return to the Aurora where she was last seen in Eccentricities of a Nightingale. Prior to that, she appeared in the west coast premier of The Pitman Painters at Theatre Works. Other Bay Area credits include Round and Round the Garden, Rock’n’Roll, and A Mother with Olympia Dukakis at A.C.T.; Restoration Comedy, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, and The Tempest at California Shakespeare Theater; Antony and Cleopatra, Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It, Macbeth, Cyrano de Bergerac, and The Servant of Two Masters at the Marin Shakespeare Company; the World Premier of First Day of School at SF Playhouse; The Women at Marin Theatre Company; and Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Theatre on the Square. Marcia is a graduate of the A.C.T. Advanced Training Program.
PATRICK RUSSELL* (Tommy, Billee, Arthur, Cousin Brandon) is thrilled to return to Aurora Theatre Company where he appeared in Body Awareness, Trouble in Mind, a n d Aw a k e a n d Sing!. Recent credits include The Other Place at Magic Theatre, Othello at Marin Theatre Company, Once in a Lifetime at ACT, and Care of Trees for Shotgun Players as well as performances with PlayGround, The Jewish Theatre, Playwrights Foundation, and Killing My Lobster. Film credits include the feature film, Us, and the animated short, The Etymology of Zero, and his voice can be heard in numerous radio and internet advertisements. Patrick holds an MFA in acting from ACT. He can next be seen in Old Wicked Songs at Center REP.
STACY ROSS* (Mrs. Boker, Mother, Kate Kiry, Genevieve) is happy to be back at Aurora Theatre Company, having last appeared in Devil’s Disciple (during the last presidential race...). She last appeared locally in God of Carnage at Marin Theatre Company, and Any Given Day at the Magic. Recent roles include Tamara, Lady MacBeth and Mrs. Warren in, respectively, Titus Andronicus, MacBeth and Mrs. Warren’s Profession, all at California Shakespeare Theatre, as well as the Mother/Other Mother in Coraline at SF Playhouse. She is a member of Playground and Symmetry Theatre, and an artistic associate at CalShakes.
SøREN OLIVER* (Officer Avonzino, Elmer Kirby, Roderick) has spent the majority of his acting career in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nationally Søren has appeared at such theatres as The Denver Center Theatre Company, The Huntington Theatre Company, The McCarter Theatre Company and The Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C. Locally Soren has worked at the Magic Theatre, the California Shakespeare Theatre, San Jose Repertory Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, the Aurora Theatre Company, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, The Jewish Theatre of San Francisco, Theatre Works and Word for Word. Wilder Times marks the 5th show Soren has acted in at the Aurora and his 10th collaboration with the company overall. Last season Søren played Albert D' Angelo in the Word for Words production of Sorry Fugu by T.C. Boyle at the Z Space in San Francisco. Søren’s most prominent television credit was the recurring role of Baliel the demon, on the WB’s Charmed. He can also be seen as Pastor Paul in the independent film Nominated.
*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers

Thornton Wilder

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

Thornton WilderAs 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.”

production photos
Photos by Jessica Palopoli
*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers
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