Today's play is Thornton Wilder's The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden, a classic one act play about which much has been written. I am not sure if it was written before Our Town, but it has the same convention of a stage manager character and minimal sets. This stage manager is less involved and appears almost bored throughout the proceedings. The plot is essentially the seemingly mundane trip taken by the Kirby Family to visit their married sister/daughter in Camden, New Jersey. It is a journey by car taken in the early 1900's when such a journey still had some novelty for those involved. The Kirbys argue, joke, sing songs, stop for gas, stop for lunch, chat with those they meet and eventually arrive at Beulah's house.
Like Our Town, this play is deceptively simple. Lurking within the plain, homespun events of the play are darker more profound subtleties. Unlike Our Town, there is no final act to make these subtleties plain for everyone. That makes it easy to write this off as trite, Yet trite it is not. The early twentieth century jargon makes it feel especially G-rated, but if one takes the effort to imagine theses characters as people and not the archetypes, (Ma, Pa, Jr., and Sis) they have come to be, they can be quite moving. Ma's concern for her eldest Daughter Beulah, who we find out at the end has recently had a miscarriage, which is in fact the reason for the trip and also her embarrassment at finding Beulah's economic status so much higher than hers have secret punches in them.
I really adore this play, especially as an actor. The trick of making people invest in these people as people and not just ideas is an especially rewarding one to pull off. I also like how Mr. Wilder is able to put all that character information in this play at the same time fooling the reader into thinking he's got these people pegged. They are, in fact, deeper, more real and individual than we think they are at first. As are we all, and that this play contains that lesson makes me happy.