The First International Thornton Wilder Conference presented a compilation of Thornton Wilder’s works read by actress Marian Seldes and playwright Edward Albee in the Mildred & Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall on Oct. 3.
A. Tappan Wilder, the nephew of the acclaimed author, presented the readings in three acts. He credited Penelope Niven, who is currently writing a Thornton Wilder biography, for helping him put the show together. But, he said, “If we go down in flames, it’s all my fault.”
In some ways it was like watching a play, as Seldes and Albee switched between characters with ease. In Act 1, which explored Thornton Wilder’s correspondence to friends and family, Seldes and Albee took turns reading letters from Wilder’s travel experiences throughout his life. Thornton Wilder often got inspiration for his works on his travels, calling them not vacations, but his “places of business.”
Act 2 explored Thornton Wilder as novelist, as the audience heard excerpts from a few of his stories, including “The Ides of March.” Seldes and Albee read separate parts from the same passages.
Sarah Reyes, sophomore English secondary education major, said, “It was really wonderful to hear Thornton’s words come to life.”
In the final act, focusing on Thornton Wilder as playwright, Seldes and Albee read pieces from three of his plays, including “Matchmaker” and “Our Town.” The two conversed back and forth, eliciting frequent laughter from the audience. Almost as if they timed it, Seldes just finished reading her line when Tappan Wilder said, “End,” causing the room to burst into a standing ovation.
Dana Dispoto, sophomore chemistry major, echoed the enthusiastic response. “I loved how they ended with ‘Our Town’ and Tappan’s ‘End.’ It was just how Thornton Wilder would have ended a show.”