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Our Town

Our Town


by Thornton Wilder

Our Town Act One Summary

  • The audience arrives to an empty stage in half-light.
  • The Stage Manager enters and sets up the stage with minimal props.
  • Get your head out of Hollywood and be aware that when we say Mrs. Gibbs prepared breakfast, she doesn’t have a top-of-the-line stovetop and big refrigerator. The actor mimes the whole deal. The same goes for when the children "eat breakfast" or Howie Newsome walks with his "horse."
  • The Stage Manager breaks the fourth wall (the invisible wall between performers onstage and the people in the audience) and introduces the play and the town of Grover’s Corners to the audience.
  • Yes, the Stage Manager can see you. Yes, he’s talking to you. That’s him breaking the fourth wall.
  • The Stage Manager gives everyone a head’s up about the play: who wrote it, who’s directing it, who’s acting in it, etc.
  • He points out the main buildings in the town, including the churches, the schools, the grocery store, and Mr. Morgan’s drugstore.
  • He tells us that the first automobile will come along in five years. Whoa. The man’s omniscient, which is another way of saying that he knows everything. In this case, time is clearly no barrier to his knowledge.
  • The Stage Manager introduces us to Dr. Gibbs’s house. He refers to the man as Doc Gibbs.
  • Next door to Doc Gibbs lives Editor Webb. Editor Webb produces the Grover’s Corners Sentinel.
  • The two men live with their wives, Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb.
  • If you think this is all pretty boring, the Stage Manager agrees with you. He tells us that nothing remarkable ever came out of Grover’s Corners.
  • We learn that the same families have been living and dying in Grover’s Corners for centuries. Nobody moves around much.
  • A train whistles, signaling the 5:45am departure for Boston.
  • The Stage Manager points out Doc Gibbs walking down Main Street. Mrs. Gibbs starts to fix breakfast.
  • We get more evidence of the Stage Manager’s omniscience (that’s the noun form of omniscient) when he tells us how Doc Gibbs and Mrs. Gibbs die.
  • The Stage Manager comments that "we" like to know the facts about everybody in "our town."
  • Joe Crowell, Jr., the newsboy, delivers the paper to Doc Gibbs. The eleven-year-old tells the doctor that his schoolteacher is getting married.
  • The Stage Manager pulls that omniscient trick again and tells us about Joe’s future: he graduates high school at the head of his class, gets a scholarship, and graduates at the head of his class at MIT. Then Joe dies fighting in France during WWI.
  • Howie Newsome delivers milk with his horse Bessie.
  • Doc Gibbs returns home. Mrs. Gibbs (very vocally) wishes that he could take a moment and relax, seeing as he’s shortly due to see another patient.
  • Mrs. Gibbs asks her husband to speak to their son George about helping out around the house. George has been thinking too much about baseball and not enough about chores.
  • Mrs. Gibbs repeatedly calls the children, Rebecca and George, down for breakfast, warning them that they’ll be late for school.
  • Next door, Mrs. Webb calls her children, Wally and Emily, down for breakfast.
  • A whistle sounds and the kids sit down for breakfast.
  • The helpful Stage Manager tells us that the whistle is from a factory that manufactures blankets. The Cartwright family owns it; they’ve made a lot of money from the factory.
  • The children rush off for school at the sound of the bell.
  • Mrs. Gibbs feeds the chickens with food from her apron.
  • Mrs. Webb strings beans next door.
  • Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb begin talking as they string beans together.
  • Mrs. Gibbs tells Mrs. Webb exciting news: she’s been offered $350 for a piece of her grandmother’s furniture. She confesses her hesitation about taking the offer.
  • Mrs. Gibbs dreams of going to Paris, but Doc Gibbs doesn’t want to travel for fear he will find Grover’s Corners boring.
  • We learn that Doc Gibbs is an expert on the Civil War.
  • The Stage Manager stops the action and calls for Professor Willard of the local university to give some geological and anthropological information about Grover’s Corners.
  • The Stage Manager dismisses the professor, and then asks Mrs. Webb if Editor Webb is available.
  • After a slight delay, Mr. Webb enters and offers political and social information about Grover’s Corners. Mr. Webb comments that it’s a very ordinary town, but that the young people seem to like it. Ninety percent of the high school graduates return to settle back in Grover’s Corners.
  • The Stage Manager asks if anyone in the audience has questions. No, this isn’t a free-for-all. It’s actually part of the play. There are people planted in the audience with questions, and they even have such nifty titles as "Tall Man at Back of Auditorium."
  • Three audience members ask about drinking, social injustice/industrial inequality, and culture.
  • From Mr. Webb’s answers, we learn that drinking isn’t a prevalent activity. We also learn that the citizens of Grover’s Corners are divorced from the big political discussions about social injustice and economic inequality, and that watching the sun come up over the mountains is more important than classical music. Grover’s Corners seems very ho-hum.
  • The Stage Manager brings us back to Grover’s Corners.
  • The children are returning from school. Emily is pretending to be a fine lady. Her dad makes fun of her. Emily laughs and kisses him on the cheek.
  • George walks down the street, strutting his stuff. He’s throwing a baseball high in the air and catching it again.
  • George compliments Emily on the speech she gave in class.
  • George asks Emily if he could occasionally ask her to give him homework hints (not answers – George is a straight-laced boy). He suggests an elaborate communication system. Their rooms are right across from each other. They could…
  • …rig up "a kinda telegraph"!
  • We learn that George wants to become a farmer, and that he hopes to inherit his uncle’s farm.
  • He leaves for the baseball field. Emily helps her mother string beans.
  • Emily asks her mother whether she is pretty. Mrs. Webb rolls her eyes and says yes.
  • The Stage Manager interrupts and shoos Emily and her mother offstage.
  • He takes center stage and tells us what happened to some of the residents of Grover’s Corners.
  • The Stage Manager says that a new bank is being built, and that his friend is working on a time capsule to put in the cornerstone of the building. Some newspapers, a Bible, and some Shakespeare are going in. The capsule will be opened a thousand or so years in the future.
  • The Stage Manager really wants a copy of Our Town – yes, the play that we are currently watching – to be added to the time capsule. He wants people a thousand years from now to learn about everyday life in small town America.
  • The Stage Manager brings us back to Grover’s Corners.
  • Two ladders are pushed onstage to represent the second story of the two houses. It is evening. The kids are doing homework.
  • A choir in the orchestra pit sings "Blessed Be the Tie That Binds," led by Simon Stimson, a notorious drunk.
  • George asks Emily for homework help through the windows. Emily complains about the quality of the moonlight.
  • Doc Gibbs calls George downstairs, and gives him a guilt trip about chores. Mrs. Gibbs has been doing everything.
  • Mrs. Gibbs walks back with other ladies in the choir. They gossip about Simon Stimson’s drunkenness. After she returns home, Doc Gibbs says there’s nothing to be done about Simon’s alcoholism.
  • Mr. Webb and Constable Warren also spend a moment discussing Simon. He walks by and Mr. Webb tries to make conversation with him.
  • Emily is out enjoying the moon and the scent from the heliotropes. She replies in the negative when her father asks if she’s troubled.
  • Rebecca tells Wally about an address that references a supernatural position: "the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God."
  • The Stage Manager invites those who smoke to do so.
Thus ends the first act.

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