Last night I went to see “Our Town” for the second time at the Fredericksburg Theater Company. This time, my husband went with me. He’d never seen the play, although he’d seen part of the ending from an episode of the old TV show “The Wonder Years.” I’ve owned a copy of the play for more than a decade. I bought it for 50 cents at the Friends of Waco-McLennan County Library Book Sale.
As the actors moved chairs into place on stage at the beginning of Act III, my husband leaned over and whispered something to me about knowing what those chairs were for—the funeral. And I wish I could’ve seen the look on my own face. Because those chairs aren’t for the living; they’re for the dead. The dead sit and stare at the audience all through Act III.
Emily: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?
Stage Manager: “No. [Pause.] The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.”
Watching the third act last night, I didn’t feel like a poet or a saint. I thought about my people sitting in those chairs: Dub, Don, Merry Nell, David, Ashley, Nell (that’s since 2009). My dad gave eulogies at every one of those funerals, plus recently, for a dear friend from college. He’s also officiated at two family weddings. Act II, so to speak. Perhaps he’s our family’s Stage Manager.
Tomorrow is Halloween, the eve of All Saint’s Day. Monday is All Souls. Playwright Thornton Wilder, who won a Pulitzer for “Our Town,” has given me a new image of the dead: sitting, waiting.
This is from the stage notes at the beginning of Act III: “The dead do not turn their heads or their eyes to the right or left, but they sit in a quiet without stiffness. When they speak their tone is matter-of-fact, without sentimentality and, above all, without lugubriousness.”
Lugubriousness, “looking or sounding sad or dismal,” says the dictionary.
The dead in Wilder’s play notice things—rain, people coming and going at the cemetery, a single star.
Another Man Among the Dead: “A star’s mighty good company.
A Woman Among the Dead: “Yes. Yes, ’tis.”