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Pullman Car Hiawatha

Because so many of the plays we see nowadays are really suited to the small screen, it is easy to forget that a stage, no matter its size, can contain the cosmos. No one understood this better than Thornton Wilder, whose plays show us how to see the infinite in the utterly mundane.

– Howard Kissel, New York Daily News

The playwright’s warmth, humor and love for humanity permeate the drama, and make it both touching and entertaining.

– Variety, December 12, 1962

In Pullman Car Hiawatha. . . the author’s resources of dramatic construction and symbolic visualization even enable him to move into a world of fancy, allowing him to give a speech to a dead woman (Harriet) as affecting as Emily’s lines in the last act of Our Town....

– John Gassner, “The Two Worlds of Thornton Wilder,” 1963

A comedy
5 women, 12 men, and various other actors to represent a town, a field, another town, three hours of the clock, and Saturn, Venus, Jupiter and the Earth

 

This one-act comedy, set in a Pullman car on a train traveling from New York to Chicago in December, 1930, introduces techniques Wilder would use in future three-act plays: The stage is virtually bare, with only a balcony or bridge and two flights of stairs, and the play is narrated by a Stage Manager. One of the characters speaks words that foreshadow Emily’s words in Our Town. The play includes a character representing Grover’s Corners, Ohio-a forerunner of Our Town‘s Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. The cast includes the hours of the day, the weather, the planets, and supernatural beings. Conventional time is suspended, and the only true measures of existence are life and death. Pullman Car takes us on a metaphorical journey by train through the American landscape, a diverse band of travelers encapsulated in a Pullman car hurtle through time, space and a range of emotions.

 

The play’s first licensed production took place March 19, 1932, at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

A note on publication:

 

Pullman Car Hiawatha was one of the six one-act plays published in The Long Christmas Dinner and Other Plays in One Act (New York: Coward-McCann, 1931). It was reprinted in The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder, published by TCG, edited by Donald Gallup and Tappan Wilder; and in Collected Plays & Writings on Theater edited by J. D. McClatchy, published by The Library of America in 2007.