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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Our Own Our Town

I know it’s been done, undone, and poorly done more than any other American-written play—"'Tain't very choice"—but I’m a big fan of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. This timeless play grabbed me the first time I read it in 1976 and never let go. A year later, PBS aired the last production that had the playwright’s input.* That show featured then-famous Robby Benson, but the production was shouldered by veteran Hal Holbrook as Stage Manager.

Ten years later, in 1987, I had the privilege of directing Our Town with a great group of sensitive and talented students in a high school of about 100. Since the play required all of my male leads from previous plays (as well as every first-timer who tried out), I was "Stage Manager." It came together very well. I’ve nothing funny or unusual to tell except that the lines and emotions of Grover's Corner, New Hampshire have been deeply etched in my mind ever since.

Act II is called “Love and Marriage,” and scenes and lines from it have been coming to me the closer we get to my daughter’s wedding in June. (I know that date is a long way off, but plans and details are peaking now.)

We watched a videotape of our high school's rendition from 1987 this afternoon. In the second Act, there’s a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs [Jeff H. and Ann C.] as they are trying to decide whether or not to allow their son George [Mark H.] to get married. Mrs. Gibbs is ironing her husband’s shirts (with the gnawed collars) when he confesses:

Mr. Gibbs: Julia, do you know what one of my terrors was in marrying you?
Mrs. Gibbs: Ah, Pshaw! Go on with ya...
Mr. Gibbs: I was afraid that we would have enough material for conversation more than to last us a few weeks. I was afraid we’d run out—eat our meals in silence. That’s a fact. You and I have been conversing now for more than twenty years without any barren spells.
Mrs. Gibbs: Well, good weather. Bad weather. ‘Tain’t very choice, but I always manage to find something to say.

Here’s how that scene played out in our house this morning:
Mr. Tom: (Reading news) Honey, what brand of peanut butter do we use?
Mrs. Julie: (from other room)

I'd have to go check. Why?
Mr. Tom: Because the FDA just recalled tainted Peter Pan peanut butter. Here I’ll read it out loud: “All Peter Pan peanut butter bought since May 2006 should be discarded, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Friday in a statement about salmonella-contaminated peanut butter. More than 290 people from 39 states have become ill with food poisoning. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified the strain of bacteria as Salmonella Tennessee, one of many strains of salmonella bacteria."
Mrs. Julie: (entering room with a jar of peanut butter) The name of the town is “Salmonella, Tennessee”? Who would name a town Salmonella?
Mr. Tom: Salmonella is not the name of the town—although if it were, Tennessee makes sense. (In my best generic Southern accent with apologies to my friends down south.) “Hey, y’all, I’m from Salmonella, Tennessee, just north of Botulism, Alabama.”—Honey, “Salmonella Tennessee” is the name of the strain. Evidently they name the bacteria after where it was first found.

Mrs. Julie: That doesn't seem right. Having state quarters is one thing...
Mr.Tom: Don't feel bad. I didn't know it either.
Mrs. Julie: Oh, Well. (Holding up jar.) We use Jiff so it doesn’t matter.
Mrs. Gibbs was right: Good peanut butter; bad peanut butter. ‘Tain’t very choice, but we always manage to find something to say.

There is a quiet contentment in shared life that supports and transcends all else in between. TK
*Wilder also had input in the 1940 film version of his Pulitzer Prize winning play.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend told me POI is an interesting place to read.This post did not disappoint. From New Hampshire to Tennessee. From plays to peanut butter? but the topic is marriage? Hmmm. This is why I read blogs but don't have one. I can't connect my thought like this.

20/2/07 5:20 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Our Town is one of my favorites perhaps because I grew up in a small town. We had our cemetery. I was sure its occupants lived on in some fashion and watched over all of us.

21/2/07 12:08 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It is sometimes a bit random here, but there's usually a pattern of connections in the thoughts and ink. (I always know what they are, but it's nice to know others can connect the dots, too.)

What happened was... we had tickets to go see the local theater production of Our Town Sunday afternoon, but Saturday we had gone to the winter sports complex (cross-country skiing, ice skating, etc.), then Sunday after church, we had an extended meal/ meeting that took us to an hour of "curtain time." Rahter than going back out we called and canceled our seats and watched the videotape of Our Town we did in 1987 instead. That's how my thoughts went from the conversatin in Act II to our own about the peanut butter recall.

I worked as the groundskeeper in a New Baltimore, MI cemetary(about the same size as Manteno) in 1976. It was not creepy at all, but very peaceful and I got to know the stones I mowed and trimmed around.
Act III in the cemetery is so powerful--not so much as a portrayal of life-after-death--but as a tribute to gift of living. Those thoughts greatly influenced my own while I wrote "The Ache of Joy" back in January 05:

21/2/07 7:06 AM  
Blogger Jill said...

Came over from Dr. John. Our Town was one of the plays that we did in school and got me interested in acting.

21/2/07 9:26 AM  
Blogger Margaret said...

I love many of Wilder's writings, but I must admit this is a favorite. I'm surprised I missed the PBS production and will have to see this one. Hal Holbrook is a genius in his Mark Twain productions, I'm certain he added much to this one.

Now if PBS would listen to me. I've been hoping to see them bring back or at least put out a DVD of the series, "I'll Fly Away" to no avail. =O(

As for the Peanut Butter, Dr. John has recently suggested that Bologna and Jelly sammiches are the way to go.

21/2/07 11:57 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

So your wedding plans are coming along like ours and it seems that there is something new to do everyday. I am enjoying it especially since I am retired and have the time to do it. I agree with you on conversation with the partner, there is always something to talk about and I enjoy it after all of these years. As for the peanut butter, we were not so lucky- we had #2111 Peter Pan but it was unopened! Now that was a blessing indeed. Enjoy your break from school and keep writing- I love it!

21/2/07 1:07 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Last three comments from TX, GA, and NC. I'm glad my generic southern accent did not offend.
Jill, I have not been to Dr. John but I will stop by. Your blog is interesting.
Margaret, Hal Holbrook was a great one-man Mark Twain Tonight and equally good as Stage Manager. There are actually two PBS productions of Our Town. 1977 and 1987(?), the latter is highly praised by Wilder buffs in acadamia.
Nancy, glad you didn't get sick on that peanut butter. If you've not read or seen Our Town, I'd recommend the 1940 version for your daughter and her fiance (it has a more pleasant ending for them).

21/2/07 9:04 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

I enjoyed this post, as one who loved "Our Town" after first digesting it as a sophmore in highschool AP English class. But even moreso, because I glimpsed my future in the conversation between you and Julie. It helped me see that one day Chip and I will talk to one another without being interrupted by little ones with urgent questions, concerns, or the need for you to respond to their constant 'knock-knock jokes'. However, I plan to throw a few knock-knock jokes into my conversation as the years wear on...as a reminder of how much I enjoyed raising my kids. =)

22/2/07 9:27 AM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

I'm sure the peanut butter epic (oops, I mean "topic") came up in many a household--small town, large town, married couples, siblings, and so on.

23/2/07 4:27 AM  

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