Our Town

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Our Town is a play in three acts by Thornton Wilder (1897-1975)[1] .

The original text

An immensely popular play that tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover's Corners between 1901 and 1913, seen through the everyday lives of its citizens.

It is one of the most frequently staged American plays, having opened on January 22, 1938 at the McCarter Theater, Princeton, New Jersey, produced and directed by Jed Harris, then moving to New York, where it opened at the Henry Miller Theater on February 4, 1938. It went on to win Wilder the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The play, performed without a set on a mostly bare stage, the actors usually miming actions without the use of props, has been very influential - also in its use of metatheatrical devices (such as setting the play in the actual space where it is being performed, having the main character - the stage manager of the theatre - directly address the audience, bringing in guest lecturers, inviting questions from the audience, as well as playing some of the roles).[2]

Translations and adaptations

South African stage translations and adaptations

Besides two direct translations in Afrikaans, the play has was also transferred to a South African setting and adapted for a South African audiences by Robert Mohr, as the bilingual (English/Afrikaans]] play Our Town/Ons Dorp.

Direct translations

Translated into Afrikaans by Ulrich Stark with the title Ons Dorp, the text published by DALRO in 1970.

Translated into Afrikaans in 1976 by Roelf Laubscher, also with the title Ons Dorp.

Other media

The play adapted well to radio, and several versions have been made over the years. The first was broadcast on May 12, 1939, on The Campbell Playhouse. The cast included Orson Welles as the Stage Manager, John Craven of the original stage production as George Gibbs, and Patricia Newton as Emily Webb.

The play was first filmed in 1940, starring Martha Scott as Emily and William Holden as George Gibbs, with an original music score composed by Aaron Copland.

It has also been made into a musical, an opera and various TV productions.

Our Town/Ons Dorp a bilingual South African adaptation

Robert Mohr (1925-1984) had met Thornton Wilder in New England in the late 1950s, and the playwright gave him his personal permission to adapt the play as a bilingual (English and Afrikaans) piece, and setting it in the Western Cape. The play was given a suitably bilingual title, Our Town/Ons Dorp and was first performed in this format under Mohr's direction at the University of Stellenbosch in 1959.

Performance history in South Africa

1945: Produced by the Johannesburg Reps, directed by Taubie Kushlick with Enid Grünewald and others.

1947: Presented by the University of Cape Town Speech-Training Department, directed by Joyce Burch in the Little Theatre in March, with a cast that included Michael Watermeyer, Zea Lurie, Ashné Kretzmar and Joyce Pienaar.

1951: Ons Dorp was presented by K.A.T. in the Labia Theatre in Cape Town, opening 25 September, directed by Hermien Dommisse starring Enone van den Bergh. The name of the translator in not known, but may possibly have been Dommisse herself.

1959: Robert Mohr produced and directed Our Town/Ons Dorp, his own bilingual adaptation of Wilder's play, for the University of Stellenbosch's Arena '59. The cast consisted of André Walters, Emile Aucamp, Roelf Laubscher, Esther van Ryswyk, Marie Smit, Ian Ferguson, Melanie Erasmus, Marcel Frank, Elma Marais, Johan de Plessis, Albert Coetser, Wenda Oosthuizen, Isabel Combrink, Jennifer Alt, Johan Conradie, Charlotte Pretorius, Ernst Eloff, Irma Braasch, Elsabé Bonthuys, Damaris Loubser.

1960: Our Town performed by NTO in 1960, featuring André Huguenet.

1968: Produced by the Rhodes University Drama Department in April 1968 with Noël Roos as the stage manager; Isobel Rennie as Emily Webb; Ian Walters as George Gibbs; Sue Parker as Mrs Gibbs and Audrey Marsh as Mrs Web and Richard Lawton, Audrey Marsh, Richard Miller, Gillian Theunissen and Arthur Clarke in the grave scene.

1976: Our Town presented by PACT at the Alexander Theatre, directed by John Hussey with Danny Keogh, Diane Wilson and Michael McCabe

1976: Our Town/Ons Dorp presented by PACOFS at the Bloemfontein Civic Theatre, directed by Jannie Gildenhuys, with Pierre Knoesen, Margi Lewis and others.

1977: The Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival Young 'uns presented Our Town at the Port Elizabeth Opera House on July 3 & 4, 1977. A Themi Ventura Production. Themi Venturas (Producer and Narrator), Hercules Pitsiladis (Doc Gibbs), William O'Driscoll (Joe Crowell). Gary Carter (Howie Newsome), Edna Wright, (Mrs Gibbs), Lorraine Young (Mrs Webb), Patrick Scott (George Gibbs), Julie Belgrove (Rebecca Gibbs), Martina Riebol, (Emily Webb), Mauro Putigna (Wally Webb), Anthony Mundell (Simon Stimson), Emmanuel Fokos (Constable Warren), Gary Carter (Professor Willard), Barry Peart (Mr Webb), Janis Harvey (Mrs Soames), Theo Rijs (Si Crowell), Robert Watkins (Sam Craig), William O'Driscoll (Joe Stoddard), Anthony Mundell, Robert Watkins (Baseball Players), Alexia Michaelides, Amber Cummins, Nadia Putigna, Leigh Ann Shamley, Gene Young, Carol Anne Kelleher (Ladies).

1985: A production of Our Town/Ons Dorp was presented at the Standard Bank National Schools' Festival, Grahamstown, directed by Trevor Hicks.

1988: A production of Our Town/Ons Dorp was presented by Universiteitsteater Stellenbosch in May, as a tribute to Mohr after his death (in 1984). Directed by Esther van Ryswyk, with Limpie Basson, Marie de Kock and Emile Aucamp - who had all been involved in the 1959 production. Other cast members were Noël Roos, Marga van Rooy, Marchand de Kok, and various students.



South African Opinion, 4(2):19, 1947.

Supplement to Die Burger, 22 September 1951.

Photographs with captions [Holograph and printed] of the Rhodes University 1968 production held by NELM: Photograph collection [Collection: Rhodes University. Drama Department]: 2006. 6. 4. 3.

Our Town Theatre programme, 1977.

Tucker, 1997. 26, 336.

Arena '59 theatre programme 1959.

UTS Theatre programme, 1988.

PACOFS Drama 25 Years, 1963-1988.

Copy of the typed Afrikaans adaptation by Robert Mohr, found in the Drama Department archives of Stellenbosch University.

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