Character Studies Living and Dying in Our Town

Character Studies premiered June 2007.

It's not what you think.

Our TownCharacter Studies: Living and Dying in Our Town
According to Cynthia Nixon, who played Emily in Thornton Wilder's widely-known classic "Our Town," most people "underestimate this play greatly." And this newest entry from Character Studies, titled "Living and Dying in 'Our Town'" will change opinons, as it digs deeper, and reveals more than ever the startling messages inside this Pulitzer Prize winner. "We're not taking the easy route here," stated writer and executive producer Tony Vellela. "It's not the usual Norman Rockwell painting, Hallmark card approach at all."

A unique line-up of Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe winners star in this documentary special, launching this summer on PBS. Hosted by veteran stage and screen actor Eli Wallach [whose distinguished career stretches back to 1945], the special features, along with Ms. Nixon [HBO's 'Sex and the City'], Frances Conroy [HBO's 'Six Feet Under'], Eric Stoltz ['Mask'], James Naughton [Broadway's 'Chicago'], Stephen Spinella [Broadway's 'Angels in America'], and Paul Newman ['Hud,' 'The Hustler,' 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'].

Cynthia and ShadCynthia Nixon and Shad Willingham
All twelve theatre artists interviewed for this daring program have worked in productions of "Our Town," either on stage or in filmed versions for television. Segments of many of their performances are included in the hour-long show, and Character Studies is especially pleased to present rarely-seen footage of Mr. Newman as the young George Gibbs, in the NBC-TV musical version that also starred Eva Marie Saint, as Emily, in 1956.

 "Mr. Naughton directed the compelling revival at the Westport Country Playhouse in 2002," stated Vellela. "That production was so well-received that it transferred to Broadway, and was then filmed for broadcast, first on Showtime Television, and then on PBS." For Newman, who played the Stage Manager in all versions of that production, it represented one of the most memorable experiences of his long and distinguished career. "I can't remember, even in monologues in [Tennessee Williams'] 'Sweet Bird of Youth,' when there was that kind of attention paid, and reverence. There was not a whisper. There was not a cough. There was not anything. People were riveted by this play."

 Stoltz, who portrayed George Gibbs on Broadway and in a television special, pointed out that "Wilder, in his unadorned way, makes some shocking revelations about us, and what's wrong with how we live." And Conroy, who appeared as Mrs. Gibbs with Stoltz, commented that "this play is rather brutal."

Paul Newman, Maggie Lacey, and Ben FoxPaul Newman, Maggie Lacey, and Ben Fox
For Character Studies, this special signals the start of provocative and entertaining documentaries in the hour-long format, following its initial success with three half-hour documentaries [Amanda, "The Glass Menagerie;" Rose, "Gypsy," and Ruth, "A Raisin in the Sun"].

 "We bring these complex characters, and the worlds they live in, to life," Vellela explained. "These are three-dimensional, like real people, which is why they have endured so long. They have something to say about our own lives, our society and how we view the world, whoever and wherever we are."

Visit the Character Studies Web site for additional features related to this program:

  • Extended comments on Our Town from actors Eric Stoltz and Frances Conroy, writer Tom Jones, and director James Naughton.
  • More on how Wilder's characters George and Emily personify the generation featured in Our Town.
  • Background on Our Town's journey from stage to screen

This external site,, also provides information on how to purchase educator resources, a complete transcript or a copy of the program.


Funded by:

Theater mania

Additional support from The National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and The Ford Foundation.

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