Betsy Maguire's love letter to Simsbury
By Maria G. O’Donnell
SIMSBURY – After a few years in the making and a pandemic push-off, Betsy Maguire will finally present her play, Our Town: Simsbury. Modeled after the classic 1938 Thornton Wilder play, Our Town, Maguire wrote her play as a gift to the town, meant to be presented during Simsbury’s 350th anniversary celebration – until Covid shut rehearsals down in March of 2020.
Now Our Town: Simsbury will finally be realized this coming fall at Eno Memorial Hall. The 30-year resident of the town is grateful for those who believed in her work and stuck with her until the wait was over. Her production company Playland Productions is presenting the play in partnership with the Simsbury Historical Society, who have been “nothing but supportive,” said Maguire. “I appreciate their partnership.”
Her director, Chris Bushey, “loves the play,” said Maguire. “He was devastated when it was taken away [in 2020]; he invested so much into this. He’s thrilled to have it back.”
Co-producer and former president of the Theatre Guild, Donna Sennott, admitted to Maguire that she’s a tough person, but after reading Our Town: Simsbury, she cried three times. “She’s a wonderful champion of the play,” said Maguire. “She loved it from the moment she read it. She’s extremely knowledgeable and experienced. It touches me [Chris and Donna] are so invested in it.”
Maguire wrote Our Town: Simsbury in 2018 with the 350th anniversary in the back of her mind, as “mostly a love letter to our town.” She emphasized, however, “I didn’t want it to be all rainbows; I weave in challenges of a small town that’s not as diverse in population, particularly racial.” She pitched the play to the anniversary committee in 2020 because “it was great timing to present the show that year,” although it wouldn’t come off till two years later.
Typically writing one-act plays, she noted that this is her first full-length play with three acts. The original Our Town focuses on a birth, a death, and a marriage in each act, but Maguire put these life milestones in a different order. She considers her work a “modern drama with humor and a large-cast play.”
Consisting of 26 actors of all ages, the characters participate in the conflicts, challenges, joys, and sorrows of life. And it’s all about memorable individuals engaged in meaningful, developing relationships. Delightful surprises are sprinkled throughout. The play’s natural flow and cohesiveness – almost magical – continue to the end.
“Anyone from a small town can appreciate it,” said Maguire. “It’s a fictional play, but I did interviews with two dozen residents before I wrote it. I had their personal stories going through my brain, and some translated to the page directly, while some took the idea [of their story]. It captures the essence of the experience in Simsbury.”
Maguire was also influenced by the small town in New York where she grew up and said a couple of the stories in the play are hers. “There’s a certain character to a small town outside a small city; it’s relatable to people who grew up there, and I tried to incorporate that. I loved writing it,” she admitted.
While the play itself features many landmarks (some of her favorite places) in town, it also spotlights specific newsworthy events to serve as a kind of “time capsule” for people to look back on some day and recall those moments in time, according to Maguire.
In addition to interviewing town residents, she would read postings on the Facebook site “Simsbury Neighbors Unite.” These indirectly mimic conversations between the eight women and five men dubbed as “Neighbors” in the play. “The levity comes from them,” Maguire explained. The theme, “What are we having for dinner tonight?” constantly comes up among them as they also banter about bikers, pedestrians, cars, and bears, and “What was that BOOM??”
She noted that the themes are very similar to Wilder’s 1938 play: “human connection, mortality, and living life to the fullest – appreciating every moment.” Modeled after one of Wilder’s characters, the Stage Manager “introduces us to the town and leads us through the fictional stories based on the interviews I did. I loved the research part; it’s fun to sit down and talk with people.”
Talking with seniors was particularly enjoyable, as Maguire “listened to them reminisce when the town had one stop light and a part-time police officer. It’s so charming to listen to how much they love the town.” She said that she and the director “want this play to be natural, that the people be real. The audience should say, ‘I know that person.’ Realism is important to [Bushey] and me. It touches on tough realities of a town that’s not racially diverse.”
On a personal note, Maguire said, “Simsbury is a special place and has seen me through life’s many milestones: raising children, making lifelong friends, and forging new careers and passions. It’s a town I love, and a town I’ll probably never leave. It’s really ‘home’ to me.”
Shows take place Sep 22 - Oct 01, 2022.
For ticket information, visit the Playland Productions website, www.playlandproductionsct.com.