WILDER TIMES: Four one act plays by Thornton Wilder. Directed by Barbara Oliver. Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. 510- 843-4822 or www.auroratheatre.org. November 2 – December 9, 2012
WILDER TIMES is five-star ensemble acting at Aurora
Thornton Wilder entered this reviewer’s domain when our senior High School class performed the one act play The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden and he became my icon with his Pulitzer Prize winning full length plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. His luster remained intact with the oft produced short play The Long Christmas Dinner. Both short plays, written in 1931, retain their universality in Aurora Theatre’s productions thanks to exceptional ensemble acting and inventive direction by Barbara Oliver. Yet the full evening was not satisfying because the two curtain raisers, Infancy and Childhood raised the question, “What was Wilder thinking about when he wrote these two plays?”
The answer to the question was found in Arthur Gleb’s November 6, 1961 New York Times article describing his interview with Wilder who was writing a series of 14 short plays that included Infancy and Childhood , entitled “Plays for Bleeker Street” produced at the Circle in the Square theater in New York City in 1962. In that interview he is quoted as saying “The theatre . . . can be restored to its commanding position as a critic of society and as a factor by which a nation recognizes its mission and its greatness.” That seems rather pretentious.
Never-the-less, from a historical perspective, both plays are of interest since they were two of the last that Wilder was to write and maintain his insistence that the intimate three sided stage with a minimum of scenery is the way to go and “We have to kick the proscenium down.” Aurora is the perfect venue described by Wilder.
Infancy takes place in New York Central Park where nannies bring their young infants in oversized perambulators. One nanny (Heather Gordon) is addicted to romance novels and has an eye on the Keystone Kop (Søren Oliver) who patrols the park. Although that potential relationship garners the most laughs with marvelous emoting by Oliver and Gordon, apparently it is the two man-babies ( Patrick Russell and Brian Trybom’s) attempts to understand the adult world that is paramount to Wilder. There is some fabulous shtick that the director Oliver (yes Søren is her son) interjects and to this reviewer dilutes Wilder’s philosophical viewpoint.
Childhood has much more meaning that is bitter-sweet and also frightening. Have you ever wondered what meaning there is in children’s games? Three children (played by Gordon, Russell and Marcia Pizzo) play morbid lets-pretend games that frustrate the mother (Stacy Ross) and her golf playing husband (Trybom). The parents become allegorically and inextricably involved and are taken on bus ride, with all three children and Husband driving, to end all bus rides but return to reality as Wilder throws in the caveat that it is all make-believe. Marcia Pizzo steals this play without upsetting ensemble concept.
The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden is the first play where Wilder uses a Stage Manager (Trybom) that is expanded upon in Our Town. A New Jersey city dwelling family consisting of father (Oliver), mother (Ross) and their two children (Gordon and Russell) pantomime their way through the countryside, delightfully observing the sights on their way to visit the Mother’s daughtee who has not been well after her baby is stillborn. In all the intervening years since it was first seen as a High School play, it still as the ability to create a sense of awe at Wilder’s power to capture human nature. The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden alone is worth the visit to Aurora.
Journey must share to accolades with the intricately directed The Long Christmas Dinner that ends the evening. Wilder’s plays are immersed with the concept of life and death as natural progressions. It is fully explored in this play that covers 90 years of Christmas dinners from the 1800s on. The ensemble switches characters and progress from youth to old age with top-notch acting and timing creating a satisfying ending to the evening. Running time about two hours and 15 minutes.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com