‘Emporium’ envisions Wilder times

It’s a thrill to see a world premiere of a play from a noted writer. In this case the premiere is posthumous and the playwright is multiple Pulitzer Prize winning author Thorton Wilder.

The Emporium was an unfinished project Wilder worked on for decades after the success of Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942).

Playwright Kirk Lynn obtained permission from the Wilder estate to adapt the nine scenes extant into a full theatrical production. As directed by Rob Melrose the production embraces the multiple-voices-merging-into-one atmosphere of Wilder’s works.

The setting-in-the-round Neuhaus Theatre in the basement of Houston’s Alley Theatre surrounds a lengthy table. If not for other signifiers like a library information desk you might think you stumbled onto a production of Twelve Angry Men.

The Emporium definitely reminds the audience that the experience is ethereal in nature. At times the houselights are fully on illuminating the audience with as much veracity as the players in the middle.

At other times members of the cast wither and roll around on the floor. The most Wilder moments have rapid dialogue from various characters merging into a kind of theatrical cacophony that encapsulates the existential nature of the play.

The players don many faces as they race around the library floor, going about their lives while shuffling books and personal obsessions.

In an ultimate reveal one character (John, a kind of town orator) discusses the spine of the adaptation in a introductory scene and gives the audience a chance to determine the structure of the play by voting one way or another during the intermission.

Thorton Wilder’s The Emporium runs at the Alley Theatre until June 2, 2024.

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