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The Ann Patchett Effect: ‘Our Town’ Is Back With a Surprising Cast

By Emma Chance | Celebrity | April 3, 2024 |

By Emma Chance | Celebrity | April 3, 2024 |


When I read Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake last summer, I knew we were in for a revival of Thorton Wilder’s classic play Our Town, because Tom Lake is about one woman’s experience playing Emily Webb in two productions of Our Town, and how it changed her life.

I’m happy to inform you that I was correct, which isn’t at all surprising, as it was just announced that Our Town will be revived on Broadway this fall, featuring Jim Parsons, Katie Holmes, and Zoey Deutch.

Our Town is one of those plays that everyone’s seen at least once, probably a high school production, but that no one really admits to loving. Maybe the first time it was ever performed, it was regarded as deeply profound, but since then, it’s been watered down into a quaint little story about the human condition. Even that sentence is boring.

I come from a theater family. My mom went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York (she was a year above Kim Cattrall), and my dad was a stage manager on Broadway and elsewhere, his biggest production being The Elephant Man, starring David Bowie (he still has the little glass penguin Bowie gave him, because he loves penguins, as a wrap present). I grew up listening to old cast recordings on vinyl, shows like Pacific Overtures and Big River.

But Our Town? Meh. I, like you, saw it one too many times to care. Until Tom Lake, that is.

I’m a big fan of Ann Patchett, whom I affectionately refer to as the Liane Moriarty of literary fiction, because her novels steer culture, at least for a little while, and at least in certain circles. While her work hasn’t been made into TV in quite the same way Moriarty’s has, there are always ripples of her influence. One of her best novels, Bel Canto, was made into a just okay movie starring Julianne Moore. Tom Hanks narrated the audiobook of Dutch House, which got everyone talking (even Dustin enjoyed it). Suffice it to say, when Ann Patchett has a new book out, you’re gonna hear about it around the water cooler for the next two to three months.

Tom Lake was no different. In fact, it was maybe even amplified because Meryl Streep did the audiobook, but furthermore, because it proved the American public still has an appetite for Our Town. I read it and listened to it, something I never do, and I’ve had a running list of who will be cast in the inevitable eventual HBO miniseries ever since.


You’ll notice the shocking absence of Jim Parsons and Katie Holmes.

Now, the characters of Tom Lake and the characters of Our Town are not the same; I know this. However, the characters of Tom Lake are the ones who play the characters in Our Town, and so much of Tom Lake is about how the characters are basically the characters they play, or, how those characters shape who they become. That is especially true of the narrator of the book, Lara, who plays Emily in the play. She is good at the role because she, by her own admission, doesn’t act. But, honestly, Emily Webb is not the most important character in Our Town, and her mother, Mrs. Webb, certainly isn’t, so I can look past my confusion about Katie Holmes.

But Jim Parsons as The Stage Manager?

To refresh your memory: The Stage Manager is an unnamed character and the narrator of the play. He is, undoubtedly, the most important character, the heart. He’s the one telling you the story, so you need to feel safe and comfortable in his tender hands. In Tom Lake—a romance, ultimately—it is the men who play The Stage Manager who end up featuring most highly in Lara’s life, who influence it positively. One of them was an established actor who played a beloved uncle on television, and the other was the director of the play who took over the Stage Manager role when the beloved uncle almost died in Lara’s arms. The second one she fell in love with and married. Both of them, according to her, possessed a certain masculine je ne sais quoi—a twinkle in the eye, if you will—that made them perfect for the role.

Does Jim Parsons have that same twinkle? Maybe I’m not the right person to ask. My former (literal) Stage Manager father, by the way, doesn’t agree with the twinkle: he always thought of The Stage Manager as “dour.” I am partial to a twinkle. Neither of us is all that familiar with Parsons’ body of work. He did that one play, The Boys in The Band, that got good reviews and then was made into a movie, and he’s currently starring alongside Jessica Lange in Mother Play, so maybe he’s got chops. I’m open to being surprised, is what I’m saying, and if he surprises me, maybe he can have a part in my miniseries.

My former actress mother (née Southern Mother) thinks Parsons is a “good choice” because he embodies the “easy going, people-loving charm” of The Stage Manager (sounds like a twinkle to me) but is still mad we didn’t take her to see her favorite Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth, when we had the chance. Of the enduring success of Our Town , she has this to say:

“Even though it was written in 1938, the play is timeless in its idea that we live life without appreciating what it has to offer. At the end of the play dead Emily realizes how sweet all of the simple things in her life were. And that was enough.”

There were obviously more typos because we were texting, but you get it.

“Thanks, mom! Now, anything about your experience going to acting school with Kim Cattrall?” I texted back.

“No,” she responded.

Our Town opens at the Barrymore Theater on October 10th.