rivers under the earth

What’s exciting about having these plays is seeing a writer trying to find a new vocabulary, a new diction, a new way of reflecting life after the war, after the dreadful fact of the atom bomb.
— John Guare, 1997

2 Men, 2 Women

This play is thought to represent middle-age, in Wilder’s unfinished cycle of The Ages of Man.

On a point of land jutting into a lake in southern Wisconsin, the Carter family enjoys a summer’s eve. It’s an evening like many others: Nothing happens and everything happens. Each member of the family–sixteen year-old Tom, his seventeen-year-old sister Francesca and their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carter–shares different memories somehow connected with their surroundings. These memories color the mood of the evening. Young Tom nearly gets into a fight over a girlfriend, whose name, Violet, recalls a key image from his childhood. Francesca never liked this promontory and though she’s not sure why, her parents recall their daughter burying a dead robin in that very spot. Mr. and Mrs. Carter struggle with their middle-age in the context of poignant personal memories of moments experienced on that section of rock. Throughout the action, Wilder weaves a tapestry of animosities and affections, memories and confessions, conscious and unconscious behavior and the unfathomable formation of identity.

A Note on Publication:
Rivers Under The Earth was first published in 1997 by TCG in The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder, edited by Donald Gallup and Tappan Wilder. It is also included in Collected Plays & Writings on Theater edited by J. D. McClatchy, published by The Library of America in 2007.