Jonathan Yardley thought he was being logical when he claimed that Arena Stage's nontraditional casting in "Our Town" "defies credibility" {Style, Dec. 3}. In fact, his argument was illogical.

Since when does theater demand an exact reproduction of real life? In Shakespearean plays, do women masquerading as men actually look like men on stage? In opera, does anyone believe that women playing teenage boys look like boys? Did Mary Martin look like a pre-adolescent male? Does Madame Butterfly always have to be Asian? (Leontyne Price, a renowned interpreter of the role who happens to be black, would say no.) Is it okay if a black plays an Italian aristocrat? (Jessye Norman, acclaimed as the countess in "Marriage of Figaro," would say yes.) Do actors playing father and sons in "Death of a Salesman" have to resemble one another for the audience to be moved by the play? Of course not.

Why can't Yardley suspend his disbelief when it comes to the skin color of the actors?

-- Margaret Harrison

In his 1941 essay "Some Thoughts on Playwrighting," Thornton Wilder wrote that theater is "a world of pretense," relying on conventions or lies, if you will, created by the playwright and accepted by the audience. He pointed out that in Shakespeare's theater, the stage was bare, and Juliet was played by a boy. The reason, he wrote, was that when "the play is staged as Shakespeare intended it, the bareness of the stage releases the events from the particular and the experience of Juliet partakes of all girls in love in every time in every place and language."

In the same way, the bare stage in "Our Town" is intended to increase the dimensions of the play's events and characters. The Gibbs and Webb families represent every family, as Wilder said, "in every time, place and language."

For Jonathan Yardley to insist that New Hampshire is as "lily white" as any state in America and therefore renders a potentially "noble" effort to culturally diversify the cast as "preposterous" is to refute Wilder's central notion of theater as a narrative form that sets us free from reality. Yardley suggested that, strictly speaking, "Our Town" is a white play, and, to him, our effort to transcend race and ethnicity by calling attention to it was a miscalculation.

But I believe this production is more than "politically correct." It is, in every respect, the play Wilder wrote. My idol and mentor, the late Alan Schneider, wrote of his 1973 Arena Stage production of "Our Town" (which, incidentally, had a culturally diverse cast), "somewhere deep inside we are still the 'family of man,' whatever lurks in our outer skins. We are all related by birth -- and death -- sons and daughters and parents of each other. As we realize only when it is too late. ... "

I am proud of the artistic choices we've made, and I continue to believe in our ongoing commitment to the poetry of pluralism in the performing arts. It is never, ever too late. -- Douglas C. Wager

The writer is the director of Arena Stage's production of "Our Town."