Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Playhouse Delivers Timely Performance of Our Town

by Louisa Hufstader. Vineyard Gazette

The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse is off to a strong post-season start with its new production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-winning Our Town, playing weekends through Nov. 3.

It’s no easy task, in a community this size, to cast a play with close to two dozen named characters, including seven principal roles. But the assured, deeply believable performances onstage—by Equity actors and first-time performers alike—give no hint of the effort it has taken to mount the show.

“It was extremely challenging to pull it all together,” said director MJ Bruder Munafo, who is also the playhouse’s executive and artistic director.

After open auditions failed to bring in enough people, Ms. Bruder Munafo began contacting Vineyarders who had, over the years, mentioned to her that they might like to try acting.

“I followed through on all of those leads,” she said, recruiting Islanders from different walks of life to fill out a cast that ranges in age from 11 to nearly 80 and is diverse in other ways as well.

While Wilder’s script—set in a New Hampshire country town between 1901 and 1913—does not include people of color or individuals with disabilities, the playhouse production has both in speaking roles.

“I wanted a cross section of the Vineyard in the play,” said Ms. Bruder Munafo, who last directed Our Town for the playhouse in 1997.

“It was the first time we had done a show with that large of a cast,” she recalled. “That started a trend of doing what I called ‘great American classics’ for quite a few years afterward,” with plays such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn and The Grapes of Wrath.

Such large productions, involving numerous community members as well as theatre professionals, provide what Ms. Bruder Munafo called “the best of both worlds.” But after a few seasons, casting challenges became overwhelming and the playhouse turned to smaller-scale shows.

The 1997 Our Town might have remained a one-off. “I don’t often revisit or redirect a show, but it’s such a classic and such a beautiful show that this felt like a good time to do it again,” Ms. Bruder Munafo said.

Wilder wrote his play—a celebration of the simplicity of everyday life in the years before the Great War—in 1937, as the second World War was brewing.

“I really do think that he wrote it in response to his time,” said Ms. Bruder Munafo.

“Here we are in another time when people are feeling some despair at the state of affairs in the world, and it’s important to refocus on what makes us human,” she said.

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