The way we were – and are Women in Theater’s ‘Our Town’ resonates with us today

“The idea that we get caught up with distractions and lose sight of what matters most is certainly as relevant today as when the play was written. Perhaps even more so.”

By HARRY BRAUN
November 10, 2018 21:54
3 minute read.
THE STAGE MANAGER, played by Sandy Cash (third from right), looks on at a rehearsal as the townspeop

THE STAGE MANAGER, played by Sandy Cash (third from right), looks on at a rehearsal as the townspeople of Grover’s Corners throw rice at a wedding. . (photo credit: DALIA WEISS)

 
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For years, the Women in Theater group has been producing musical plays that resonate with its all-female audiences. Now, WIT’s activities are taking a decisively dramatic turn, as they present Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Our Town at theaters throughout Israel.

Our Town represents a coming-of-age moment for the growing women’s theater community in Israel. Unlike other English-language stage productions presented by all-female religious troupes in recent years, Our Town does not focus on Jewish or even feminine themes. Instead, with this show, WIT is staking its claim to the wider playing field, asserting its readiness to bring a classic work of dramatic literature to life and explore its universal themes.

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The action of Our Town is played out in the fictional village of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Considered wildly radical when it debuted 80 years ago, the play uses pantomimed action, leaps in chronology and other untraditional stage techniques on a nearly bare stage. But the show’s lack of scenery only adds to emotional impact, as the audience is challenged to consider the personal, milestone moments – including love, marriage, and ultimately death – that link us to humankind’s past and future, across the generations.

In its recent Broadway revival, the town’s Stage Manager – a role originally written for a man, performed by such luminaries as Henry Fonda and Paul Newman – was entrusted to the well-known stage and film actress Helen Hunt. In the current WIT production, the Stage Manager is played by actress and singer-songwriter Sandy Cash.

“As a performing songwriter, I developed a personal style that involves lots of talking directly to the audience,” Cash told In Jerusalem. “As the Stage Manager – a role that might be called the “Hamlet” of American drama because of its long monologues – I also communicate directly with people in the theater. I’m inside the action and outside of it at the same time, encouraging the audience to see themselves as part of the universal drama taking place on stage.”

In parallel to its artistic objectives, WIT has an educational mission: founded in 2008, and established as a nonprofit organization in 2014, the troupe presents a customized “curriculum” for each production, familiarizing the participants with each play’s themes and comparing them to wider trends in world history and Jewish life. As WIT’s performers range widely in age and experience – the youngest “citizen” of Our Town is just 10 years old, and the oldest is 78 – this approach helps the entire cast better understand and appreciate the worlds they inhabit on stage.

“One of the things that drew me to direct this play is the fact that, as immigrants to Israel, we all live in an ‘Our Town,’” says director Pnina Fredman-Schechter, who, before making aliyah, taught acting and drama at NYU, and worked Off-Broadway. “On one level or another, we’ve chosen to live in communities where we look out for one another, know each other’s business and commemorate life’s milestones together. Wilder’s Our Town is our towns, too.

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Fredman-Schechter notes the play’s timeless message about treasuring life before it’s all gone.

“The idea that we get caught up with distractions and lose sight of what matters most is certainly as relevant today as when the play was written. Perhaps even more so.”

Executive producer Tamar Krantman Weiss says, “Because it is performed without props, Our Town gives physical expression to the idea that ‘things’ aren’t as significant as we sometimes think.”

Managing director and costume designer Ninoska Ravid adds: “The play is exceptional because it grabs us, challenges us and provides a lesson in the spiritual practice of never taking anything for granted.”

Performances are in English. For women and girls of all ages.
• Thursday, November 15 at 8 p.m. – Jerusalem, Hirsch Theater, 6 Eliyahu Shama Street
• Monday, November 26 at 8 p.m. – Modi’in, Einan Theater, Azrieli Mall, top floor (opposite the cinema)
• Wednesday, November 28 at 8 p.m. – Ra’anana, Yad Lebanim, 147 Ahuza  Street
For more information visit www.womenintheater.com

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