A Milestone in Grover's Corners

PlayBlog   A Milestone in Grover's Corners
"Miracles do not only happen on 34th Street," observed Thornton Wilder''s nephew, Tappan, on Dec. 16, the night the Barrow Street Playhouse Off-Broadway revival of his uncle's beloved Our Town racked up its longest run ever — 337 performances! — topping, by one, the original Broadway run engagement at Henry Miller's Theatre on 43rd Street.

[caption id="attachment_3456" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Tappan Wilder
photo by Aubrey Reuben"]Tappan Wilder[/caption]

Our Town is so steeped in our DNA as The Great American Play that such allusions to miracles on 43rd Street and Barrow Street were lost on the invited audience, but the nephew insisted that the opus was, by no means, a slam-dunk.

Its two-week Boston tryout was "a disaster," he said simply. "They cut it short, and the play arrived at Henry Miller's Theatre on a stretcher," opening Feb. 4, 1938.

Broadway reviews were arranged in two piles (favorable and "the others") by the playwright and his sister to determine how they'd travel home from the New Haven train station (taxi or bus). "They rode the bus," said the nephew, who then read "the first documented evidence" of Thornton Wilder beginning to realize what he had wrought — a letter to his attorney, J. Dwight Dana, dated Feb. 6: "Ruth [Gordon] phoned down it's already broken a house record. In spite of the mixed reviews, when the box office opened Saturday morning, there were 26 people in line; the line continued all day, and the police had to close it for ten minutes so that the audience could get into the matinee; and that $6,500 was taken in on that day — the two performances and the advance sale. Imagine that! Friday night both Sam Goldwyn and Bea Lillie were seen weeping. Honest! Isn't it astonishing, and fun, and exhausting?"

This selection — from "The Selected Letters of Thornton Wilder," which Robin Gibbs Wilder (Tappan's wife) and Jackson R. Bryer edited for HarperCollins — emotionally capped an evening in which Our Town's lead producer Scott Morfee invited a handful of today's cutting-edge playwrights to reflect on their profession.

Participants included Circle Mirror Transformation's Annie Baker, Underneath the Lintel's Glen Berger, Becky Shaw's Gina Gionfriddo, No Child . . . 's Nilaja Sun and Orange Flower Water's Craig Wright, among others.

Mike Daisey was to have appeared and, instead, opted to hop the first flight to Mexico after his one-man show, The Last Cargo Cult closed at The Public, but Urinetown's Greg Kotis came, delivered his bit and left, rushing back to St. Vincent's Hospital where his son was having his appendix out.

Edward Albee's contribution to the evening, read by Joel Grey, was short and sweet: "I met Thornton Wilder in the early 1950s. I was writing poetry. I showed him some. He told me to write plays. Thank you, Thornton."

— Harry Haun

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