More than most artists. Thornton Wilder seemed to emerge in the public eye at the peak of his powers, mature and polished. So the rare glimpses we get of his apprentice days are especially fascinating.
Four much glimpses come our way tonight at 10.30 in "Wilder Wilder," a half-hour special, airing on Channel 26. (A repeat is set for Sunday at [WORD ILLEGIBLE] p.m.).
These four playets, five to eight minutes each, have never been performed on the stage, and even Wilder considered them merely recitation pieces.
But some imaginative screening techniques by Rudi Goldman of WHA in Madison, Wis., (Wilder's home state) show the works to best advantage.
They range from a talking donkey, bearing Joseph and Mary on the Flight into Egypt to some 27th-century Newfoundlanders having anxieties on Judgment Day. All of them derive from Bernard Shaw who in those days was genreally considered second only to Shakespeare, if that. The plays are discursive and didactic, making ironic points about the nature of faith the permanence of the self and so no.
Wilder's gentle skepticism comes through in his depiction of Jesus in heaven as a sharp young excutive. His Brechtian interest in stagecraft vs. reality shows up in the Flight into Egypt. His wit seems fully developed, but there is little sense of character, later to be one of his strengths.
These sketches are slight, talky, often sophomoric. "Our Town" they're not. They also come with the virtually inescapable television commentator who tells us what we are about to see.
On the other hand, who can resist a TV special that lasts only half an hour?