haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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March 2008, vol 4 no 1

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David Gershator

 

Our Town's Saturday Night

Starry night
not one star
out of place

It’s a folding chair production. Sold out. The local high school is putting on Thornton Wilder’s classic play “Our Town.” Life, love, birth, death in Grover’s Corners, a small New England town with an active cemetery. Bare stage. Not many props. Some chairs, a ladder, and a stage manager like an MC to move the characters and ghosts along. You remember it, don’t you?

There’s an extra twist to this all-American favorite. My friend’s the director and he fills me in. The high school English teacher’s   daughter plays the lead role of Emily. The teacher is in the audience tonight and that’s the real play. She looks normal, doesn’t look bad at all. No hat, no wig, no outward sign that she has terminal cancer. Did she help choose the play?

Every word the daughter speaks on stage takes on added resonance. Heavy echoes hang in the shadows. Especially when
Emily, in a ghostly white gown laments her mother’s not being able to see her grown up and getting married. It’s too real, too intensely close to home.

intermission
the condensation
on soft drink cans

Brief power outage toward the end but the play goes on with flashlights and more power than most people can handle. Probably half the audience is aware of the circumstances--the byplay within the play. The cast members most certainly. At the curtain all the dead are applauded, all resurrected as high spirited high school kids. I turn around to see the youngish mother a few chairs behind me. She’s smiling and laughing through tears, applauding her child. Bravo! Bravo! Seventeen and very pretty, the star takes one bow, then another. She runs off stage for a quick change. The lady next to me has tears in her eyes. “Our Town” will never be the same.

At the exit, the English teacher and her daughter, all smiles, surrounded by well wishers....

parking lot
a car’s throbbing bass
fades into the night