An Our Town not with a quaint, Caucasian, New Hampshsire-ish cast, but a multicultural one that truly represents our town—New Haven.
That’s what Long Wharf Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein promised as he announced that the great 1938 play will be the centerpiece of the theater’s 50th anniversary fall season.
Monday night more than 200 people—mostly representing the loyal season-subscriber and major donor base—gathered for the festive season-preview party.
In an engaging discussion about the nail-biting process of choosing plays for the 50th season, Edelstein (at right in top photo) said that many factors figure in on the “bumpy road” of selection, such as finances and actors’ availability. Our Town, penned by Hamden native son Thornton Wilder, prevailed in part because “the play allows us to focus a community around it.”
That community is New Haven.
“It’s traditionally done with an all-white cast,” Edelstein said. “Truth is, our town doesn’t look like that anymore.”
Edelstein declared the play “undeniably one of the greatest plays of the American canon” and right up there “with Shakespeare and the Greeks,” He also reminded the audience that the play has often been put on in high-schoolish productions as a sentimental, quaint show.
To right the situation—and to return to what he feels are the roots of Wilder’s work—Edelstein promised a “completely multicultural Our Town. An Our Town that looks like our town.”
“I’m nervous as hell about it, in the face of such a masterwork. I’m endeavoring to cast only Long Wharf alums [in honor of the 50th season]. If it’s our town, let it be our town.”
He said he is also hoping to get some New Haven residents to play parts in the large cast.
In these leaner times—when large-cast shows are financially not very doable—Edelstein hailed the efforts of Long Wharf fundraisers. Donors make Our Town, a show with roles for 18 actors, feasible at Long Wharf.
Ting added that there will be a lot of community engagement around the show. He announced an extra week of performances devoted to bringing busloads of high-school students to see the play.
Edelstein spoke of the need to reach younger audiences as an almost religious obligation. Theaters have a duty to present the great plays to new generations.
“These plays are also our holy books,” Edelstein said. “And half of the Long Wharf staff hasn’t seen” Our Town.
He admitted that some people were surprised and even skeptical at the choice of the much-produced classic.
Edelstein’s answer: “I guarantee you, you haven’t seen an Our Town like this.”
The season’s other plays will include:
• Steve Martin’s comedy Picasso at the Lapin Agile.
• Forever, a world premier solo show by Dael Orlandersmith, an actor and playwright frequently featured at Long Wharf.
• Bad Jews, by under-30-year-old playwright Joshua Harmon, a comedy about a family battle over the rights to a Holocaust survivor’s necklace.
• brownsville song, an interacial family tale by Kimber Lee.
• And a funny American history play about a woman—Edelstein described her as a cross between Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan—who was practically president of the United States: Joe DiPietro’s The Second Mrs. Wilson
Click here for a full run-down on the six plays Edelstein and Assistant Artistic Director Eric Ting have chosen.