PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — "A good town to live in," reads the sign on Route 101 as you approach the charming New Hampshire village that is commonly thought to have inspired Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." A more apt slogan would be hard to imagine.

Adhering to the austere values of rural New England, the message is welcoming but not boastful. Peterborough, it seems, never would sell itself as “great,” even as far-less-appealing locales often tend to. No, “good” suits Peterborough just fine, and it proved a tonally perfect self-appraisal for my pilgrimage to a community and a theater company that play an outsize role in the history of American drama.

“Our Town” was first performed by the Peterborough Players in 1940, two years after its Broadway debut. Wilder, a frequent guest at nearby MacDowell writers’ colony, worked with the company on its production, the initial go-round with a play it has produced eight times — more than any other work in the company’s astonishing 88-year run.

The latest version is this summer’s “Our Town” outdoors, in the heart of downtown — the Players’ choice for returning to the stage after covid-19 forced it to scrub the 2020 season. With a cast decidedly more racially diverse than the predominantly White New Hampshire audience to which it plays, this “Our Town” evokes worlds that Wilder could not have imagined.

On a green off Phoenix Mill Lane, behind the Monadnock Center for History & Culture, spectators gather, 150 strong, while the light is still plentiful at 5:30 p.m., for one of the nation’s touchstone pieces. High school drama clubs and community theaters across the country know the circle-of-life story of fictional Grover’s Corners, N.H., where the Gibbs and Webb families unite over the marriage of George and Emily. For all the parochial events its central character, the Stage Manager, lays out for us, the three-act play is a reliable heartbreaker, as it tallies the simple joys and abundant sorrows of human existence.

I have seen the play numerous times, but never before at the inspirational epicenter of “Our Town” lore. It occurred to me it was the first time, too, that I was seeing this classic rendering of small-town life in a small town (pop. 6,700), where the pace is in keeping with the play’s busy-but-not-overactive rhythm. Even more significant, a fresh-air revival of “Our Town” in the summer of 2021 felt like a kind of theatrical salve — a balm of normalcy to soothe the psyches of theater lovers who worry what the disruption of the shutdown portends for a financially fragile art form.

The Players grasped the special timeliness of the event, filling the 17-member cast of “Our Town” with a rainbow of actors: Black, White, brown, Asian and mixed-race. There’s an interlude early in the play when the Stage Manager, played by veteran screen actor Gordon Clapp (perhaps still best known for his Emmy-winning role as Det. Medavoy in “NYPD Blue”), asks a professor to discuss the demographic makeup of Grover’s Corners at the turn of the 20th century.

Professor Willard, portrayed by Pedro Ka’awaloa, doesn’t delve into race in his short discourse, no doubt because New Hampshire then was overwhelmingly White. (More recent statistics put the state at 93 percent Caucasian).

“It feels like the story of any village,” said Tom Frey, the Players’ acting artistic director, who staged the production on a platform furnished by set designer Charles Morgan with trunks and barrels and other bric-a-brac out of America’s attic. That notion of universality was embraced by other members of the cast, especially some who previously entertained no personal connection to the play.

“I didn’t think I knew any of these people,” said Tracey Conyer Lee, a Black actress who portrays Mrs. Webb. Called on to mime the activities of a wife and mother in a Grover’s Corners kitchen, Lee said she realized the details of daily domestic life were markers of love she easily recognized. “It’s not the act of cooking,” she said in an interview. “It’s taking care of the family.”

Of her prior avoidance of the play, she noted wryly: “I lived my artistic life in blasphemy!”

Lee joined Clapp, Frey and Aliah Whitmore, who plays Mrs. Gibbs, on the grounds of the Players’ complex a few miles out of town to talk about their experience with the production, which began a sold-out run on Aug. 4 and continues through Sunday. None of them could boast as profound a history with the Players as Whitmore; her grandfather James Whitmore Sr. was an Academy Award-nominated actor (for 1949’s “Battleground”) who also worked at the company. Before his death at the age of 87 in 2009, Whitmore was scheduled to appear as the Stage Manager for the Players, according to his granddaughter.

Aliah Whitmore guided me into the Players’ darkened 250-seat playhouse and pointed to a cross beam. Up there, on a previous trip to the theater — where she’s worked as, yes, a stage manager — she placed a box with some of her grandfather’s ashes. “He was a company member when he got the news he was cast in ‘Command Decision,’ ” a 1947 play in which the elder Whitmore made his Broadway debut and earned a Tony Award for outstanding performance by a newcomer. “It only made sense for this to be his final resting place,” she said.

Though Wilder apparently never specified Peterborough as Grover’s Corners, the matter does not seem to be in dispute. Peterborough is absolutely convinced: An intersection in its prim downtown is marked by a street sign that reads “Grove St. at Grover’s Corners/Main St. at Grover’s Corners.” “It’s conventional wisdom,” observed Howard Sherman, author of “Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ in the 21st Century,” published early this year. “It’s certainly a reasonable assumption, in that Wilder spent a number of summers at the MacDowell colony.”

Although Aliah Whitmore expresses a deep affection for the Players, she — like Lee — never saw herself performing its signature play. With an Anglo father and mother from Trinidad, she identifies as biracial. “It was a play I lamented I would never be asked to participate in,” Whitmore said. “You can see clearly when it’s performed that its concepts are beneath, above and within all human beings.”

Clapp, who grew up in North Conway, N.H. — a locale mentioned in the play — put it another way. “I like to say it belongs here. It belongs here, now.”

These impressions were borne out in Frey’s production, which on a warm afternoon in early August seemed at one with the town that encircled it. A few sound effects — the patter of raindrops, for instance — competed with the croaking of Peterborough’s crickets. Or were they part of Kevin Frazier’s sound design, too?

For two acts, the story unfolded as deceptively humdrum, an accounting of ordinary events rolling up to George and Emily’s wedding.

Then came the sleek third act, an unsettling metaphysical spin into the afterlife, when a good “Our Town” bowls you over with its reminder of the blinders we wear, screening out the tiny daily joys. Watching this production — and, true to the sentiment on that Route 101 sign, it’s a thriftily pleasing one — I was led as the sun set to what felt like a clarifyingly timeless thought from Wilder. “Our Town” says it well, but perhaps Shakespeare said it best: What fools these mortals be.