2007-11-30 / Columnists

On The Beach

'Our Town' Performed In Memory Of Barbara Eisenstadt
Commentary By Beverly Baxter

BEVERLY BAXTER BEVERLY BAXTER Barbara Eisenstadt bequeathed to every one of us a very special gift: A production of the Thornton Wilder classic, "Our Town." The production was so important to her that she urged, with all her quiet but steely determination, The Rockaway Theatre Company to obtain the rights. She never gave up her pursuit. When Barbara first approached the RTC to do the production, the producers and directors were unaware of her medical condition. Although she had pursued the mounting of the production for quite some time, it soon became apparent to them why her urgency made sense. She was dying. And the play and its message was something that she was impassioned about sharing.

When the RTC realized the urgency, they set about to obtain the rights from Samuel French. Since "Our Town" is one of the most enduring and most often-produced plays in American theatre, the RTC never imagined there could ever be a problem with obtaining the rights to do it. Then, they received word from their agent at Samuel French that all area productions of "Our Town" would be halted, indefinitely, due to a production of the play at Lincoln Center. Anthony Marino, who was eager to direct the play for the RTC, and RTC Executive Director John Gilleece, had the horrible task of going to Barbara's home to give her the disappointing news. This was in August. Time was ticking. Still determined, Susan Jasper decided to write a letter to the agent, asking if they could petition the estate of Thornton Wilder to grant special permission, given the circumstances of Barbara's rapidly declining condition. And they waited....

August turned to September... September became October. Barbara passed away on October 14. On October 17, the day after her funeral, the RTC received special permission from the Thornton Wilder estate to do this production of "Our Town" in memory of Barbara Eisenstadt.

Why was it so important to Barbara that "Our Town" be produced? What was it about its message that she was so determined to share with us? And was it merely a tragic twist of fate that the RTC received permission to mount the play just days after Barbara's passing, or could this, too, go to the heart of why Barbara wanted this play produced and to the theme of the play's powerful message?

In one of our final conversations, Barbara called to share with me the absurdity of something her cook, whom she referred to as her Swedish fairy-godmother, had prepared.

Of all the things to choose to prepare for someone so sick, her fairy-godmother had brought home a catfish! She was neither mad nor frustrated by the notion; instead, she was giddy about it and appreciated the absurdity for what it was.

I've never known anyone who had such appreciation for the simple details of life, who could find magic in the mundane and make the ordinary extraordinary. For me, this was her most profound legacy.

The play's message, in many ways, mirrors who Barbara was and how she lived her life: engaged and present.

Set in the early 20th century, the play takes place in Grover's Corner, New Hampshire. The town could be anyplace and all places, anytime and all times, and the characters could be anyone you'd know.

"Our Town" opened in New York on February 4, 1938 at the Henry Miller Theatre. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938.

The Rockaway Theatre Company will stage two performances only, on Saturday, December 8, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, December 9, at 2 p.m.

Call the box office for reservations at 718-850-2450.

I hope you will go and be treated to this timeless classic and grasp its significance. It was Barbara's enduring wish for you.

***A note of tremendous thanks to Director Anthony Marino for taking on this daunting production, with little time and for just two performances.

***Congratulations to Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Brett Morgen, for his critically acclaimed "Nimrod Nation," which premiered on November 26. The eight-part series can be seen on Monday nights at 9 p.m. on the Sundance Channel. Morgen is married to Debra Eisenstadt.

***In loving memory of James Conway Sullivan, whose impact continues to endure on the town he loved so well.

See you...On the beach!

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