Lead actor Christopher Carver gives an inside look at the Off-Broadway world premiere of ‘Our Town . . . but Wilder’ at Actors Temple Theatre

The world premiere of Our Town . . . but Wilder began its Off-Broadway run at the Actors Temple Theatre on October 1, with an opening night set for Sunday, October 16. Written and directed by Richard Krevolin, the comedy centers on a 1980s high-school production of Thornton Wilder’s renowned 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town, which goes terribly wrong. Set in the fictional town of Irrelevant, Connecticut, the story follows a sexually confused theater kid named Bentley Cramer, who is thrust into a position of power when he is cast as the Stage Manager. A series of comical mishaps ensue, leading him on a journey of self-discovery, as he learns about the fragile coexistence of beauty and intolerance, community and divisiveness, which often clash in small-town America.

Christopher Carver (center) and the cast. Photo by Adam Smith.

Krevolin has loved Our Town since he first watched the play on PBS as a child, becoming a theater lover and fan of Thornton Wilder’s plays while growing up in a small Connecticut town in the 1970s-80s. He wrote Our Town . . . But Wilder while in grad school in 1990, and promptly put it on the shelf, where it sat for the next 30 years. Then, just a few years ago, he returned to his high school for a ceremony in which he was named a member of the academic hall of fame. Days before the event there had been antisemitic and homophobic incidents at the school, which reminded him of the similar issues he had written about decades earlier. The fact that some things never seemed to change in small town America – “from the welcoming sense of knowing your neighbors to the puritanical intolerance of race, religion, and sexuality” – compelled him to share his now-33-year-old play.

In the lead of the now-adult Stage Manager reflecting on his youth is Christopher Carver – actor, director, educator, and recent transplant from LA to NYC, whose many stage and screen credits include a recurring role on NBC’s American Dreams, co-starring in David E. Kelly’s Ally McBeal, shows with California’s acclaimed Pasadena Playhouse and The Globe, and a touring production of Psycho the Musical, which received a BroadwayWorld Award.

Chris spoke with me during previews about the show, his role in it, and their relevance in our current time.

Christopher Carver. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What is it about Wilder, and Our Town in particular, that is so universal and adaptable for now?

Chris: I think it’s the theme of the lack of change. There are a lot of parallels between the time of the original and now, with our new version shining a spotlight on our era of divisiveness and trying to bring some unity to our country.

How does it feel to be playing a high-school student? What do you find most relatable about your character and his experience?

I’m the elder, looking back on my younger self in high school (played by two other actors, Ben Elias and Scotty Kall). The journey of his life is very similar to mine; it’s about exploration and coming out of the closet, going through the ‘80s and ‘90s, when I also grew up, with a positive reflective eye. Not focusing on the pain and anguish, but seeing the joy that came out of it, has been nice.

What is the advantage of using comedy to deliver a serious message?

I believe that’s how the audience relates best, and how you get through the fire wall, especially if it hits in a hard place. Sometimes it takes a little longer to register through humor, but it’s good to let it get into their subconscious and then laugh about it.

Christopher Carver (right) and the cast. Photo by Adam Smith.

What are you enjoying most about your Off-Broadway debut at Actors Temple Theatre?

I love this cast! It’s the 107th show I’ve done throughout my career, and it’s the most welcoming and supportive I’ve ever worked with – which might be the fact that it’s New York. There are no egos involved, everyone has been so nice and generous with each other, and I’m loving that. I also want to mention how wonderful it has been to work with the playwright/director Richard Krevolin. Because this is an original piece and a world premiere, there has been a collaborative process, of him working with the cast to make some changes, to ensure the best possible production. He’s been very accepting and open to our ideas.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?

The feeling of hope that we can change and there are things we can do to make our country better; a call to arms to rise up and have people love each other!

Many thanks, Chris, for sharing your perspective on this reimagining of an American classic and its significance for today. I look forward to seeing it.  

Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes, without intermission.

Our Town . . . but Wilder plays through Monday, November 14, 2022, at Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $68, plus fees), call (212) 239-6200, or go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a photo ID to enter the building.


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