FAIRBANKS — Ray Parshall was first introduced to Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town” 35 years ago when he was the stage manager for his high school production.
In the decades since, Parshall has studied the play and what Wilder has written about it, coming away with a deep appreciation for the work and the author’s intentions. The play, which has become an American icon, centers on the everyday residents of Grovers Corners as they live and die and hope for something more. Parshall is directing the play, a production of the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre.
“It resonates with everybody,” he said. “Everybody’s from a town. In those places, the same things happen every day. Children go off to school. Parents care about their kids. They fall in love, they marry, they die. They encounter people who have problems. It hits chords.”
The play contains many scenes that have led it to be branded as depressing, but Parshall disputes that description.
“It’s not depressing,” he said. “There are sad moments, but sadness is a part of life. What (the character of the stage manager) is saying is the main theme of the play, ‘We all know certain things, but we don’t take them out and look at them very often.’”
The play, which won a Pulitzer Prize after it was published 80 years ago, is reportedly in production every day somewhere in the United States. On Thanksgiving Day, Fairbanks will become one of those communities in the count. The play opens at the Empress Theatre above the Co-Op and runs through Dec. 9.
Parshall said that he had only two requests as a director: One was that the play open on Thanksgiving, and the other was that Bruce Rogers play the lead role of the stage manager.
“He brings credibility to the play,” Parshall said of the longtime FST actor and artistic director.
One thing Parshall wanted to do was avoid the syrupy sweetness he has seen in other “Our Town” productions. The scenery and backdrops, sparse by design, will include elements unique to Fairbanks.
“I really wanted to bring home that our town isn’t necessarily pretty,” he said. “There are charming things about it, and there are things that are not so charming about it.”
He said he has been sharing a quote from Thornton Wilder with the cast and crew: “Many plays — certainly mine — are like blank checks. The actors and directors put their own signatures on them.”
“I believe that with this production of ‘Our Town’ we’re signing the check Mr. Wilder speaks of — and the check is being drawn on the life savings of each member of our cast and crew,” Parshall said.
IF YOU GO
What: “Our Town,” a Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre production
When: Thursday, Nov. 22, through Sunday, Dec. 9 (half-price preview on Nov. 21.) Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.
Where: Empress Theatre, 535 2nd Ave.
Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.