Four hitherto undiscovered plays by Thornton Wilder will get an airing at the Actors Theatre Of Louisville, Oct. 22-Nov. 22. The plays, recently found at Yale University's Thornton Wilder Archives at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, will serve as the centerpiece of ATL's 13th annual Brown-Forman Classics In Context Festival.
Tazewell Thompson will direct the one-acts: A Ringing Of Doorbells, In Shakespeare And The Bible, Youth and The Rivers Under The Earth. Ringing follows a mother-daughter con-artist team trying to scam an army widow. The suspenseful Shakespeare shows a young couple meeting up with a mysterious aunt. Rivers is a philosophical comedy set on an ancient ceremonial campground. Youth serves as a satirical sequel to "Gulliver's Travels," with the adventurer landing in a society composed entire of people under age 30.
Wilder's longtime friend and creative associate F.J. O'Neil [sic] found the 1956 scripts when looking over the Wilder Archives. The works were part of two uncompleted series, "The Seven Deadly Sins" (including Doorbells and Shakespeare) and "The Seven Ages Of Man" (including Youth and Rivers). O'Neil then contacted Tappan Wilder, executor of Thornton's estate (and the playwright's nephew). "Actors Theatre of Louisville was the first choice," the nephew said. "It's the top of the heap as far as we're concerned."
Says O'Neil, "I think these plays should be seen...they're wonderful comments about the human condition and the clash of culture."
The timing of this rediscovery coincides with Wilder's Centennial; he was born April 17, 1897 in Madison, WI. At ATL, a "Festival Focus" weekend (Nov. 14-16) will offer films, lectures and readings that examine Wilder's life and work. The two lectures will be "Thornton Wilder At 100: Wilder's Literary Legacy," a talk given by Jackson R. Bryer, English Professor at the University of Maryland; and "Signposts, Footprints, Clues: Thornton Wilder In His Work," by Penelope Niven, who's penned biographies of Carl Sandburg and Edward Steichen. She's currently working on Wilder bio.
Wilder's more famous, full-length works include The Matchmaker, Our Town and The Skin Of Our Teeth. Wilder's one-acts also made news earlier in the decade when Off-Off-Broadway's Willow Cabin theatre company linked three one-acts as Wilder Wilder Wilder, a production that eventually came to Broadway's Circle In The Square Theatre.
Steven Samuels, senior editor & director of online services for Theatre Communications Group contacted Playbill On-Line to add that Rivers Under The Earth was first published in American Theatre magazine's March 1997 issue, and that all four one-acts at ATL will appear in "The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder, Vol. 1," to be published by TCG in late June 1997. The volume will also include all the long-out-of-print one-acts from "The Long Christmas Dinner and Other Plays," as well as all the existing material towards the two cycles, "The Seven Deadly Sins" and "The Seven Ages of Man," also known as "Plays for Bleecker Street." Playwright John Guare (The House Of Blue Leaves) has penned an introduction for the volume.
--By David Lefkowitz