It’s a very theatrical evening with the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's Wilder! Wilder! Wilder!.
By Kay Kipling
Thornton Wilder may be best known to many for Our Town and The Matchmaker (along with his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey), but it’s clear from Wilder! Wilder! Wilder!, now showing in an FSU/Asolo Conservatory production, that this quintessential man of the theater wrote steadily and affectionately for the stage over a period of decades.
Bethany Weise, Alexandra Guyker and Hannah Rose Goalstone in Wilder! Wilder! Wilder!
The evening consists of five short one-act plays, ranging in time period from the 1920s to the 1960s, and there’s a range in tone, too, from fairly light-hearted comedy to more sober reflection. Apparent in this production, as directed by Matthew Arbour, is the same emphasis on theatricality that was so memorable in Our Town. The play begins with a stage manager turning off a theater’s ghost light, and then the cast members move onstage, themselves seeming to be summoned ghosts, before the first play begins. Throughout, with the presence of the cast onstage as an “audience,” with the tracing and removal of lines on the floor to delineate a room set, with the background of stacked props, we’re both drawn into imaginary worlds and very conscious that what we’re seeing is a play.
The five short pieces all revolve around families and especially the relationships between children and their parents. The first, Infancy, is set in Central Park, and involves a Keystone Kop lookalike interacting with a nursemaid, a mother and their respective charges—babies in big carriages who occasionally rise up and speak in ways both amusing and sinister. The second, Childhood, depicts three children whose favorite game to play involves imagining their parents “away”—and themselves orphans. The third, The Wreck on the 5:25, shows us a mother and daughter anxiously awaiting the arrival home of the husband/father—who’s undergoing a sort of psychological crisis that feels more modern-day in its alienation.
Play No. 4, perhaps the best known and most successful of the lot, is The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden, which depicts a family foursome on the road to visit a married daughter who’s had a recent crisis of her own. It’s a nostalgic but not necessarily sentimental piece that delicately balances its humor and its pathos. The evening’s closer, The Rivers Under the Earth, is perhaps the most difficult for the Conservatory cast to convey; here, a more realistic, contemporary approach makes it harder to appreciate the differences in age and maturity between parents and children.
But it’s an interesting collage of plays, and, beyond that, provides our first look at the “new” second-year Conservatory students, all 10 of them. Judging from the first outing, we’re in for some strong performances this Conservatory season; there’s an impressive range of talent and type here.
Wilder! Wilder! Wilder! continues through Nov. 23 at the Cook Theatre; for ticket info call 351-8000 or go to asolo.org.