Acting Plays Theatre

Our Town Is A Play Like No Other

Alicia Donnelan
Alicia Donnelan


Part slice-of-life, part tone-poem, shyly spiritual.

I play the Stage Manager in Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production, a role like no other.

Well Paul Newman (whom I once had the privilege of playing for and meeting after the performance), and Spalding Grey, and Helen Hunt and numbers of distinguished others have played that Everyman, the Stage Manager. None of whom I am like. And yet we’re all actors.

And there is Dylan Thomas’s poetic masterpiece written in 1954, Under Milk Wood.



Do you know that poem by that good man of New England, Robert Frost, Trial by Existence?

Emiley Kiser and Joe Ferrarelli. Photo: Alicia Donnelan
Emiley Kiser and Joe Ferrarelli. Photo: Alicia Donnelan

And from a cliff-top is proclaimed

The gathering of the souls for birth,

The trial by existence named,

The obscuration upon earth.




But For sleight-of-the-eternal in the guise of the everyday, Our Town has it, I think.


Emiley Kiser, Joe Ferrarelli and the company. Photo: Alicia Donnelan
Emiley Kiser, Joe Ferrarelli and the company. Photo: Alicia Donnelan

What could be more quotidian than delivering milk or making breakfast or even getting married?

And what more metaphysical than:

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it, every, every moment?

– No, the saints and poets maybe. They do some.


Memory, Presence, the Ephemera that is theatre, the forward march of time …

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting …” — William Wordsworth

Or … “What’s that unforgettable line?” — Samuel Beckett

The company, opening tableau. Photo: Robin McGee
The company, opening tableau. Photo: Robin McGee


Kenneth Kay and Josh Stoughton. Photo: Alicia Donnelan
Kenneth Kay and Josh Stoughton. Photo: Alicia Donnelan

“Some say that the art of the theatre, born for and bound to the moment, must, like a soap bubble or nocturnal meteor, dazzle, then burst to leave no trace. Free yourself from this dark thought! The very fact that your art is a child of fragrance, of the spirit, of a mood, of personality and imagination, and not something of wood or stone, or even a thought fixed in black and white, but a sprite forever swinging free on beauty’s vine, the fact that it lacks tangible form, renders it immune to the gnawing of time’s worm. And that is what life truly means: to live in memory …. to rest in people’s minds free of the mildew and rust of age …. and this lot has been granted to you.” — Henrik Ibsen


Dan Leonard, Patti Gardner, Emiley Kiser. Photo: Alicia Donnelan
Dan Leonard, Patti Gardner, Emiley Kiser. Photo: Alicia Donnelan


“To live vividly in the memory of others seems to be a great thing. In terms of art, it always seems to me that there is something unique and electric about an artist connecting with an audience in live performance. The memory of these moments get parked in a different part of our mind. People speak of them with real reverence and clarity even many years after the applause has faded. To be remembered like that, in any aspect of life, is probably the nearest we have to time travel.”  Jonathan Pytell —



“We all come here and we don’t know why. We all go in our turn and we don’t know where. And if you’re a bit better off, be thankful. And if you don’t get into trouble and make a fool of yourself, well be thankful for that, because you easily might.” — Henry Ormanroyd in When We Are Married by J B Priestly

The company at the funeral. Photo: Robin McGee
The company at the funeral. Photo: Robin McGee

Kudos to my fellow actors in our production like no other. Cast list here. It has been quite a ride. Company members have come and gone, rehearsals and performances have been fraught with incident. All borne with good humor and grace by that fine collection of human beings, the cast and crew of Our Town. Theatrical companies become families within three days. But in a company of this size we are a community.

The company. Photo: Alicia Donnelan
The company. Photo: Alicia Donnelan

“Backstage was chaos distilled into a very small space.” ― William Alexander, Goblin Secrets

Robin McGee
Robin McGee

Note to self: this is one where the less ACTING the better …

N.A.R. (No Acting Required)

— John Voight …

“The most exciting acting tends to happen in roles you never thought you could play.”

― John Lithgow …

“When you most succeed, you do so by seeming not to act at all.”

― Stella Adler, The Art of Acting


This Play Is Called Our Town. It Was Written By …

photo-27The play’s themes are Community, Death and The Weather – not necessarily in that order. And you don’t need to go to New Hampshire to get any of that. Although if you want to speak with the Down East dialect it would help.

Oh and by the way, who is the Stage Manager?

A man both of the town and beyond it, able to move in several directions in time and with the prescient knowledge of things to come and things past. His voice joins with the author’s in the play’s great invitation: to notice.

Last year 2013, was the 75th anniversary of the first production of the play in 1938, and the 38th of Thornton Wider’s death in 1975. Its content is distantly reminiscent of the American Transcendentalists of the 19th century and its form somehow gently references both the origins of theatre and the contemporaneous alienation techniques of Eastern European Drama. Last year there was an abundance of productions. This year, Palm Beach Dramaworks, in Florida, celebrates its 15th anniversary, and produces this play in celebration. It’s my fourth production here, and it is lovely to work with old friends and new ones on this exquisite, ordinary-extraordinary, beautiful play.

The play is set in New Hampshire in a small town for which the author gives map co-ordinates in the text. It’s a clever move because if you check the latitude and the longitude  you end up in the shallows of the Atlantic Ocean off the New England coast. Thus, no actual town can lay claim.

But the town in Our Town is as New Hampshire as it’s possible to be – I speak as one who knows the place. I have journeyed there in all seasons, seen the leaves turn in Fall, blazing the hills with their slow motion firework display; shoveled snow at Christmas; counted churches in the towns and along the country roads.


The State motto is: Live Free Or Die. You see it stamped on vehicle number plates. Most plates are manufactured by convict labor. A real-life detail that I believe Wilder would have noted as an ironic counterpoint along the lines of the shadowy speech he gives the Stage Manager as the Minister after the wedding in Act Two.

“I’ve married over two hundred couples in my day. Do I believe in it? I don’t know … once in a thousand times it’s interesting.”

To me, accents are interesting. Nothing else quite points to both the unity and the divergence of human experience. After all, we all, all of us, all of us that ever lived or ever shall, have the same basic vocal equipment. But can you produce the clicks of the Xhosa language, the tonalities of Tibetan or Cantonese, the umlaut guttural nasalities of Scandinavia? No? Me neither … And what about the nuanced estuarine vowels now espoused by British politicians and younger Royals alike in their quest for the peoples’ favor?

To me the accent challenge on this one is as hefty as anything Ms. Streep has undertaken. In the play we are a New Hampshire community between 1901 and 1913. The accent is specific, a long way from Standard American, not so far from Boston, and with English notes in its origin.

For an Australian or a Briton to replicate an American accent authentically can be tricky. There is a long list of those who have:

Hugh Laurie, Dominic West, Gary Oldman to name a few … and going the other way … Gwyneth Paltrow, Renee Zellweger, and let’s include Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth the first (although I believe I spotted two rogue Aussie vowels) … yes, but these consummate performers were on screen where a zillion takes in bite-sized nuggets, accent coaches on tap, and the magic of post, can fix it all.


One thing I love about my job is the variety. Some roles are fun, some are fantasy, others by turns: a challenge, a task, an attempt, an exploration. Seldom routine. But to play one of the great roles that is all the above and more, in company with old friends and new ones, in an iconic play that among other things, is also about … Life, Art and Truth. Well that is …

A privilege.