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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 12, No. 3, April 6th, 1949.


Here is something altogether astonishing—the actors of Unity Theatre have offered an exciting evening of real theatre, with a performance of "Our Town" which, although it had faults, was yet full of charm, sincerity and an ordinary freshness. The playwright, Thornton Wilder, on the other hand has written a play about Grover's Corner in a way which sometimes does its best to destroy the atmosphere the cast have built up. He has played on all our most easily aroused emotions: he has shown us children at school, their falling in love, their marriage and then the death in childbirth of the young girl we have watched growing up.

His final curtain comes down on a scene calculated to make the most hard boiled of us feel compassion and at least a temporary kindliness. George Gibbs falls weeping to the ground on his wife's grave, while she watches him from among the "dead." This is as unrelieved as the Greek tragedies he draws from, but Wilder commits the unforgivable sin of arousing strong feelings and sentimentalizing on them. He treats memory in as artificial a way as the Victorians treated their souvenirs. Alas, those happy days; Alas the fragility of all earthly joys! For the living just 'don't understand:' 'does any human being ever realize life to the full while living?' pleads another. And the device of having a bevy of "dead people' to comment on the living who are attending the funeral is easy but ineffective moralizing. For most of us know that it takes an extreme situation to allow any person (unless he is exceptional) to realize the possibilities of life—routing dulls us all and it is the place of many things (theatre included) to heighten our sense of reality and to help us to appreciate fully the possibilities of any situation. What Thornton Wilder has done, where he does not care to let events speak for themselves, is to achieve a somewhat similar banality and mediocrity to Sutton Vane's once famous play "Outward Bound." Here was a novel theme, but with not a thought in it.