“Our Town” wows despite last-minute change
October 21, 2022
Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “Our Town” depicts the lives of everyday people living in the fictional town of Grover’s Corner, N.H. at the beginning of the 20th century. This weekend, the Department of Theater and Dance is opening its own unique take of the American classic, directed by Professor of Theater Davis Robinson.
“It’s a play that’s been done a lot and is often thought of as just this New England, quaint, white space,” Robinson said. “We wanted to do a very diverse international production and bring a lot of international humanity and multicultural sensibility to this small New England town.”
In order to accomplish a more inclusive production, the department bought the rights to the multilingual version of “Our Town” from Wilder’s estate. The multilingual version was originally created for a Miami production of the play, which included lines in Haitian Creole and Spanish.
“When we had auditions, I looked for people who are native speakers in other languages. But we had no Haitian Creole speakers. We had a few Spanish speakers, but not enough to pull it off,” Robinson said. “So we started saying, ‘let’s do it in Tagalog and let’s do it in Arabic and let’s do it in Vietnamese.’”
The original script for the Bowdoin production, which the cast rehearsed for six weeks, included nine foreign languages. This interpretation of the play was put to an end, however, when the estate caught wind of the production through an article on the Bowdoin webpage.
“The estate called and said, ‘We need to see your translation.’ So I sent them the script,” Robinson said. “[The estate] said they can’t go through and verify that all these [lines] are accurately translated. But we’re projecting the script on the wall so we’re not changing a word.”
Despite Robinson’s appeals, the estate remained adamant that Bowdoin’s production switch to the original English script. The cast was alerted to the unwelcome news this past Tuesday, just two days before their first performance. Despite the initial scramble, the cast quickly overcame the situation.
“There was a bit of a panic at first,” actor Andy Lopez ’24 said. “We have a really great ensemble, we have a great director and a great support system, and we were able to work through it collectively.”
For many members of the cast, the multilingual aspect was central to what made the project appealing, so the change to an exclusively English script was disheartening.
“I was so excited about the multilingual concept when [Robinson] first presented his vision for the show. I think it provided such a great opportunity for students who otherwise might not have been involved in the project. If not for the multicultural focus, I think this cast would look much different,” actress Sydney Starks ’24 wrote in a text message to the Orient. “The shift to English was an unexpected and disappointing turn, but this cast is amazing and it will be a great show.”
Although they aren’t able to perform the play how they had initially planned, Robinson and the cast are confident that the multicultural aspect of their production will still carry through.
“Even if we’re not speaking our native languages, everybody’s still representing their culture and their people and their individual and collective story,” Lopez said.
The cast’s confidence was well-founded, as audience members gushed about the cast and the production overall following Thursday night’s show.
“I personally love seeing that [more diverse] casting. I think they did a very good job of it,” audience member Charlotte Iannone ’26 said.
“The whole third act—I don’t like to cry at things, but I was getting teary,” Mariana Vidaurri ’26 said. “The person to the left of me was also crying. It was a tear-jerker.”
One of the things that Robinson drove home is that “Our Town” is not just about one small New England town, but about the lives of all everyday people during this era. Wilder intended it to be a record of how people lived.
“It’s not about Yankee accents and quaint New England,” Robinson said. “It’s about humanity and growing up and dying and whether any of us can acknowledge how much value we have in life because it flies by so fast that we don’t appreciate it.”
The production was certainly successful in reflecting Bowdoin’s student body, and in capturing all those who make the campus what it is. “Our Town” is showing tonight and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Pickard Theater.
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