Sunday, November 13, 2016

Thornton Wilder in "Our Town"

On September 29, 1946, Theatre Guild On The Air broadcast a radio adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Our Town". The adaptation was by Erik Barnouw, and the production featured Thornton Wilder himself.

Wilder played the role of the Stage Manager onstage numerous times in "Our Town", beginning as a replacement in the original Broadway production. As far as I know, this radio adaptation is the only surviving record of his performance. The cast features Dorothy McGuire as Emily, the role she understudied and performed during the original Broadway run. Original cast members Doro Merande and Arthur Allen are heard as Mrs. Soames and Professor Willard, respectively.

As grateful as I am to be able to hear and share this recording, I must say I think it's a poor adaptation of the play. Barnouw made his adaptation without knowing that Wilder himself would be performing the Stage Manager role (which Barnouw renamed "Narrator"), and the part is greatly rewritten. In his book Media Marathon, Barnouw writes of being very nervous during the first readthrough, but Wilder was apparently quite game about the whole enterprise. Wilder's performance is good, although it would be nice to hear him reading more of the lines he actually wrote. The syrupy, overblown music is also a serious detriment to the production.

Admittedly, it's an impossible task to reduce Wilder's three-act play to 60 minutes, and the play itself is granted only about 45 of those minutes, due to sponsor messages. It is, as they say, what it is. And here it is. The photo in the video below shows McGuire and Wilder, with John Craven (the original George Gibbs on Broadway).

The full cast of the radio production:
Emily: Dorothy McGuire
Narrator: Thornton Wilder
George: James Dobson
Dr. Gibbs: Cameron Prud'Homme
Mrs. Gibbs: Barbara Weeks
Mr. Webb: Bill Adams
Mrs. Webb: Dorothy Sands
Mrs. Soames: Doro Merande
Mr. Morgan: Will Geer
Simon Stimson: Philip Tonge
Professor Willard: Arthur Allen

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