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Few American plays are more often performed than Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the 1938 bit of minimalist metatheatricality about turn-of-the-century, smalltown America. (This fall, Cornish College of the Arts is doing two versions.) Pony World Theatre, a company The Seattle Times once called “unexpected, inventive, and deranged,” wants to flip the entire shebang on its head. Enter Not / Our Town, a remix of the work where every performance will be different based on a preshow audience survey that’ll determine characters, scenes, and staging options. Or, as the marketing puts it, “a brand new play…that’s also very old.”
“Each night, half the scenes are always the same,” writer/director Brendan Healy told The Ticket, “but the other half are decided by the audience. Some of those choices genuinely change the vibe of the night. A couple even change some of the storylines[…] I can’t wait to see what gets picked the most often and what that might say about us.”
I asked Healy what led to this particular production. “There’s a word I love: ‘sonder,’” he explained. “It’s that realization that hits us sometimes when we look at a stranger and realize they are living a life as full and complex as our own. That’s part of what the original Our Town was going for (even if the word didn’t exist yet), and it’s definitely what we need right now in our world. But I think the original play has a lot of barriers for modern audiences. We want to inspire sonder in people but do it in a new way, with surprises and joy and dancing and silliness and—if they vote for it—things falling from the ceiling.”
Me, I’d vote for “things falling from the ceiling.” There’s also an option to include puppets! But even if that doesn’t happen on a particular night, Healy hopes you’ll have an unforgettable evening. “That audience had this time together to see a thing that will never happen again. That’s what life is, really, and that’s what the original Our Town was all about.”
📸: Pony World Theatre