The play has no special effects, no pyrotechnics and hardly any scenery. Its minimalist approach has the actors miming certain everyday activities without the use of props. But Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” has stood the test of time.
Since its debut in 1938, Wilder’s theatrical meditation on life and eternity set in an early 20th-Century American town has been one of the world’s most performed plays. And now, Miami New Drama’s production of “Our Town” is offering a version of the celebrated play that reflects a huge part of South Florida’s cultural identity.
Certain lines have been translated into Spanish by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz. And Miami-born playwright Jeff Augustin, whose family is from Haiti, has translated others into Creole.
Before introducing languages other than English into the original text of “Our Town,” Miami New Drama producers first had to get permission from the late playwright’s estate.
Tappan Wilder, Thornton Wilder’s nephew and literary executor, was all for it.
“The idea seemed just right,” says Wilder. “It’s where the play was headed. It is a world play and in Miami, we’re going to see it expressed as a world drama – which I believe it was from the beginning."
Roughly 80 percent of the play is still performed in English, with the Spanish and Creole lines projected on an upstage wall like opera supertitles.
The director, Michel Hausmann, says those projections amplify the beauty and intensity of Wilder’s writing.
“After opening night, two different families came to me and said, ‘You got the Haitian family dynamic so perfect!’,” says Hausmann. “And the other one said, ‘You got the Venezuelan family dynamic so perfect!’ And I can’t help but laugh because what really happened is that Thornton Wilder got humanity so perfect.”
And what would Thornton Wilder think of this production of “Our Town,” where Mrs. Gibbs is referred to as “Maman” by her son George? And Emily Webb is called “Emilia” by her father?
“He’d be very proud that the play has reached this level of dramatic sophistication, insight and humanity,” says Wilder.
IF YOU GO:
Our Town” by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Michel Hausmann
With Spanish dialogue by Nilo Cruz and Creole dialogue by Jeff Augustin.
Miami New Drama production at the Colony Theatre
1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach.
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 19.