One of the first images imprinted on my mind, as I considered where to move, was the marquee of Sierra Madre’s small town playhouse. The artistic rendering of it, sporting the announcement of a run of Our Town, in our town graces the front cover of Michele Zack’s history of Sierra Madre, and permission was garnered to use it as the poster and Playbill.
As a new resident sitting at dinner across the street at Only Place on a weekend night, I watched playgoers dutifully line up as recommended, near 7:30 for an 8 p.m. show to the single ticket taker who reviews reservations made by phone… “Cash or check, please.” (Actually, you can make buy your tickets online through Vendini these days, too.)
I was charmed by the idea I could live in a town where live theater came to me in easy to get to, easy to park, easy to digest portions, after my Bay Area digs where we drove nearly four miles to the nearest retail establishment, eight miles to church or movies and fifteen to a shopping center.
A place where I could get to know the troupe, and support the live arts, without traversing the Bay Bridge, paying an arm and a leg, crawling up urine-reeking stairs from underground parking, and sitting in seats built for smaller framed folk from four generations ago.
The seating is intimate and small scale, like the town, our town. I come, honestly, for the entertainment, not heavy literary analysis. Only once in my five year tenure here, (I know I know, not nearly long enough to have any service stripes here in Sierra Madre!) have I been disappointed by the play, though in the natural ebb and flow of our town and life, some have been better than others.
Not disappointed really, just confounded. In retrospect, Arcadia was the most memorable of the series I’ve seen, as, months later, it still evokes the steam-coming-out-of-the-ears frustration of half of our group who couldn’t figure out the plot and wanted to give up, and the other half who wanted to solve the puzzle.
The current play, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, is not about “steal the show” performances like Sylvia. And our town’s shared disappointment when the lead character fell ill, and shut the show down. Announced simply by a placard in the ticket window of our town. My neighbors still talk about missing what the rest of our group deemed an extraordinary, fun-filled performance.
Our Town’s ensemble cast gives purposefully small town, regular folk a skin, yet not a memorable, stand out skin, nearly faceless. We’re lulled into the sweet sameness of the milk man’s daily delivery, the doc coming home from an overnight delivery of a baby, the policeman’s beat. We’re charmed into our own remembrance of first love. And we’re shocked by the turn of events, because we’re caught up in our town’s everyday life. Life imitates art.
It’s not about which face, body type or age actor was cast into the part, but the universality of experience. Birth, ball games, coming of age, wooing, marriage, birth… and death. All parts of life in our town, any town, any where.
Many of us read it as part of the curriculum in sophomore high school English class. I can still remember where I sat reading my first play, at age 15. The play itself has become part of the fabric of America.
In this most performed play in our country, Pulitzer Prize winning, Our Town, written in 1938, is said to be staged somewhere, nearly every day of the year. The Sierra Madre Playhouse program provides poster renditions of its productions across the country.
The set is about as minimal as you can get, with the intent for the audience to visualize and insert themselves into the experience, for the trappings don’t matter. It’s the cycle of life, and learning what matters and what’s immaterial. Our Town charmed and entertained me; then motivated to reflect on my own life’s path. So Wilder was successful. Our Town was successful.
Our Town plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 2:30 through April 16 at Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard, Sierra Madre. Ticket prices are $20 for adults, 65+ seniors and students pay $17, and Under 12 attend for $12. For reservations, call 626-355-4318 or visit their website for reservations and more information at www.SierraMadrePlayhouse.org.
Now, if only Paul still had the soda fountain of old at our town’s century old drug store.