On Friday Feb. 28, cast members of the University of Maine School of Performing Arts (SPA) presented “A Wilder Night: Three One-Act Plays by Thornton Wilder.” The performance was also held on Saturday, Feb. 29 and Sunday, March 1. Each performance took place in the Hauck Auditorium of the Memorial Union.
Thornton Wilder, an American novelist and playwright, has won many awards for his work, including Pulitzer Prizes for fiction and drama. He was known as one of the most prevalent playwrights of the 20th century. Other plays that Wilder wrote include “Our Town,” “The Skin of Our Teeth,” “The Matchmaker” and dozens more. Wilder also wrote seven novels, the first titled “The Cabala,” written in 1926.
The three plays UMaine SPA performed, “The Long Christmas Dinner,” ”Pullman Car Hiawatha” and “The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden,” were all written in 1931.
Each play, directed by Ljubi Matic, showed a different side of Wilder to share with the audience. In “The Long Christmas Dinner,” the cast relied on pantomime to serve as props for their dinner table, and the act spanned dozens of years while following generations of the same family. With intricate and dramatic lighting, and a set that well reflected the mood of the 19th-century setting, every element of the show came together to create a reflection of Wilder’s typical style, described on the show’s website as “his use of the stage manager as a character, his use of pantomime, minimal scenery and farce, as well as his signature connection between the commonplace and common dimensions of the human experience.”
The play also took a humorous twist as male cast member Curran Grant played the role of Mother Bayard, the grandmother in the performance. The cast for “The Long Christmas Dinner” also included Pooja Bawat playing Lucia, Peter Bacon playing Roderick, Connor Bolduc playing Cousin Brandon, and others who also took on roles in the later performances.
In “Pullman Car Hiawatha,” cast members acted out scenes from a train that was traveling from New York to Chicago. The set for the performance was arranged to look like the top and bottom sections of a moving train car, with chairs set up in rows for the audience to view each member on board. The members took turns sharing their internal thoughts with the audience with the help of humorous Grant, this time in the role of the stage manager. The projection screen behind the set in the auditorium allowed for changing black and white video clips and pictures to help create a more realistic feel and help viewers understand the setting.
Sarcastic humor and lighthearted personalities set the stage for unexpected events that took the act in different directions. Some of the actors who appeared in this play included Katie Luck, Wiliam Bickford, Rowan Jellison and Jacob Siegel.
The last of the plays, “The Happy Journey To Trenton and Camden,” included a small cast of six members and followed the Kirby family on a seemingly-pleasant road trip. The cast included Grant, Vanessa Graham, Mark Muir, Karissa Cooper, Travis Burr and Luck.
In each of the three one-act plays, the costumes were representative of the 1930s, the era that the plays were written in. The cast wore intricate gowns, servant costumes and suits to help differentiate between the changing times, personalities and scenes in Wilder’s plays.
In the first of the three one-act plays, “The Long Christmas Dinner,” each cast member who played an older generation adult was fit in a flowing, high-neck gown or suit and dress coat. As the show progressed, each new generation brought with them more modern clothes and language that represented the time period they were growing up in. With deaths, plot twists and complex character development, Wilder uses elements such as character conversation and setting to tell his audience a story.
The show is running this coming weekend March 5-8. The next showing of the plays at UMaine is on Thursday, March 5. Tickets are available online in advance or at the door of Hauck Auditorium. To see a list of upcoming events by The School of Performing Arts, visit umaine.edu/spa/.