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Three of the greatest plays in American literature collected in one volume
This important new omnibus edition features an illuminating foreword by playwright John Guare and an extensive afterword for each play drawing on unpublished letters and other unique documentary material prepared by Tappan Wilder.
Our Town—Wilder's timeless 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning look at love, death, and destiny is celebrated around the world and performed at least once each day in the United States.
The Skin of our Teeth—Wilder's 1942 romp about human follies and human endurance starring the Antrobus family of Excelsior, New Jersey. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1943.
The Matchmaker—Wilder's brilliant 1954 farce about money and love starring that irrepressible busybody Dolly Gallagher Levi. This play inspired the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly!.
About the Author
An acclaimed novelist and playwright, Thornton Wilder (18971975) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1928), Our Town (1938), and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943). Wilder's other honors include the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Book Committee's Medal for Literature.
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition (January 2, 2007)
It's hard to imagine that there's a soul out there who hasn't come across at least one of these plays in the course of public education or personal reading, but if you haven't then you should at least give them a chance and take a look. Plays aren't everyone's idea of pleasure reading, but this collection of Wilder's best-known three are among the best-known one-act plays in the American collection. Drawing at will upon the comic and the tragic -- often in the same breath -- Wilder's plays might have prompted the slogan of the recent (and acclaimed) "American Beauty", which implored viewers to "look closer." These three plays are good discussion pieces, palatable introductions to American theater, and insightful explorations into the potential of the theatrical medium.
A little more info on two of the three:
OUR TOWN happens to have been one of the first plays I ever actually studied in a drama class, and I have particularly fond memories of blustering through the part of Mr. Webb in our dramatic reading. The play, which focuses on the lives of the simple townsfolk in Grovers' Corner, New Hampshire, a dry New England town, begins with an observation of the daily lives of the townsfolk. In the second act, it goes on to portray the romance which develops between George Gibbs and Emily Webb, the young lovers who consummate their feelings in marriage at the end of the act. And in the third act, after Emily dies, she finds herself among the mourners at her own wake. Taken as a whole, Our Town shows the reactions of the austere New Englanders to all possible situations -- they are brought to life, portrayed in times of happiness, grief, and peaceful quiet. In addition, Wilder uses the play to make a statement about the futility of living in the past, and forcing the audience to deal with the concept that just like a show, life must go on. In the end, he says, truth can only be found in the future, which it is still in our power to influence and change. Our lives are our own to live, and we must learn to set our own course while we still can. (Of particular interest in this script is the role of the "Stage Manager", who both interacts with the characters and serves as a quasi-omniscient narrator. I think the idea of having a character exist on multiple planes might have been a Thornton first, at least in some regards.)
THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH is a little bit stranger and more avant garde. In a script unlike anything else that Wilder has ever written (to the best of my knowledge), the audience is presented with a detached look at man's natural reaction to crisis and stress. The play focuses around the Antrobus family, simple representatives of the every family, but with a few significant quirks -- the characters seem to be updated (or perhaps reincarnated) versions of the first family -- Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel -- and refuse to establish a consistent setting. Simultaneously set in the prehistoric Ice Age and on the boardwalks of Atlantic City (and by simultaneously I mean that there is no differentiation between the two), and paying no particular attention to the linear laws of time or space, the play draws upon so many stage and literary devices that it eventually makes the head spin. In a particularly powerful conclusion, the play comes entirely round circle, ending with the same lines on which it began, and implying that the entire cycle is about to repeat itself. And that is exactly the point Wilder was getting at in this bizarre and avant garde production -- no matter how much we change, as we evolve from cave-dwellers to farmers to civilized ladies and gentlemen, the more we stay the same. Our features change, but our natures do not. Both a confusing and intensely powerful piece of dramatic scripting, this play is worth reading at least twice. (To the credit of this script, I remember getting chills just reading it to myself for the first time, during certain climactic scenes.)
As for THE MATCHMAKER... I'm not as familiar with it, but I know it's a popular comic script for amateur theater troupes, and served as the basis for the musical comedy "Hello Dolly", in which a widowed matchmaker decides to take a second husband, and tricks him into proposing to her by making a show out of setting him up with another woman. Clever, but not as experimental as the other two...
All in all, this is a collection of plays that should be read at least once, if only so that you can say you didn't care for them. There's a lot here, and Wilder was a master of the short script, and a pioneer in American theater. Give it a shot -- check it out from your library if you're dubious about purchasing scripts you haven't read -- and see what you think,
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Classics that are deserving of the term, November 15, 2001
Skin of Our Teeth and Our Town both were prize-winning plays. The Matchmaker became one of the most popular musicals of all time - Hello Dolly. Thornton Wilder's plays are in production at countless high schools across the country, and that's a pity - few students have the maturity or insight to bring these words strongly to life.
Skin of Our Teeth, the story of the Antrobus family in stone age Atlantic City, NJ, deals with indomitable humanity, and how we can prevail against all odds, but especially against our own impulses. It also brings up the consolations of literature and of past times.
Our Town is a simple little play about love and death, and how life is composed as a series of moments. It is so important to live in every, every, moment.
The Matchmaker is about living life to the fullest, even in the midst of grief and aging.
This makes these plays sound dreadfully simplistic, and full of high-school style morality. Thornton Wilder's writing is full of irony, wit, grace, kind humor, and style. His writing has a deceptive simplicity and rhythm. Read these plays to bring some beauty into your life.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Anyone searching for some good plays?, April 8, 2002
Thorton Wilder is one of the best playrights of his generation. This book brings together three of his best plays. "Our Town" which is a play centered around one town, and the way life can change within it. "the Skin of Our Teeth", which centers around one family that is going through all the changes that have ever happened in the world, including the ice age, world war 2, the depression, and so on. And finally "the Matchmaker" which is not the best play, but is still worth reading. Thorton Wilder does an amazing job with character developments and sub-plots, and these three plays really show his genius.
4 of 44 people found the following review helpful:
This book is another one of those someone else is in control of you books. If you are forced to read it I have mercy on your soul because you will die the same fate I did. Spend your time doing better things go see Titan A.E.