Berkeley: Christopher Herold gives voice to the historically silent in ‘Our Town’

UC Berkeley TDPS

UC Berkeley TDPS

Thornton Wilder once wrote, “I am interested in those things that repeat and repeat and repeat in the lives of millions.”

Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-Prize winning Our Town is a meditation on life in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, where people come of age, fall in love, get married, and eventually say goodbye to the earth. It was Wilder’s stated intent that the representation of Grover’s Corners not be anachronistic; however since its premiere in 1938 the play has increasingly become staged as a Rockwellian tribute to life in the early 1900s. Director Christopher Herold hopes to change that perception – both of the play and of the time period – in the UC Berkeley Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies’ production, opening its 2010-2011 season on October 8.

Herold’s production removes the play from a purely historical setting, exploring the events of the text in dynamic relation to the ongoing struggle for inclusiveness in American Society. The result is a play that blends numerous times and places, and focuses on the enduring aspects of American life. The timeless nature of the human experience is also reflected in Wendy Sparks’ costume design as well as the set design, in which Wilder’s original sparse sets are rendered as silhouettes that the characters inhabit during their time onstage.

“Setting Wilder’s idealized small town life against a modern reality allows us to see Grovers’ Corners 1913 for both its successes and failures, and begin to judge our own time period as well,” says Herold. “Who do we include and exclude from our own communities today? What does it mean to be a part of a community… whose town is ‘Our Town?’”

The restaging of the play is also a coming-home of sorts; playwright Thornton Wilder graduated from Berkeley High School in 1915. A short play of Wilder’s was performed during his time there, and he spent hours as a young man in UC Berkeley’s Doe Library reading European newspapers and studying German Theater. Wilder was both an accomplished playwright and novelist, winning Pulitzer Prizes for both Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) and for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Ray (1927).

Director Christopher Herold teaches acting and directing for TDPS. His directing credits at Berkeley include productions of Sauce For the Goose, Suburban Motel, Three Sisters, Escape From Happiness, Orestes, Pterodactyls, Good, Noises Off, The Crucible, Funeral Games, Infancy, and How I Got That Story. He is also a member of the faculty at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he serves as the Director of the Summer Training Congress. At ACT, he has directed studio productions of Fuddy Meers, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, The Kentucky Cycle Part II, Galileo, and Escape >From Happiness. Mr. Herold has also taught at Stanford and The Berkeley Repertory School of Theatre. The former Artistic Director and a founding member of Jawbone Theater Ensemble, his work with that company includes direction of the San Francisco premier of Manfred Karge’s Conquest of the South Pole and Samuel Beckett’s Play for the Bay Area Intimate Theater Festival. Other directing credits include the San Francisco premier of Tick, Tick . . . Boom for Theatre Rhinoceros and the critically acclaimed Achilles and Patroclus for Central Works. Locally, he has appeared in roles at Aurora Theatre, The Magic, Central Works, Theatre Rhinoceros, Shotgun Players, the Victoria Theater, and Yerba Buena Gardens.

Our Town opens on Friday, October 8 at the Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC Berkeley campus (across from Haas Pavilion near intersection of Bancroft and Dana) and runs weekends through Sunday, October 19. Performance times are as follows:
October 8, 9, 15, 16 at 8pm; October 10, 17 at 2pm

$15.00 – General Admission, $10.00 – Students/Seniors, UC Faculty/Staff. Group discounts for ten or more, $7.00 – Students/Seniors, $10.00 – General Admission. To purchase tickets, visit or order over the phone on Fridays between 1pm and 4pm by calling 510-642-8827.

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