Meta plays are in some ways like magician’s patter. Most good magicians know two things about people who go to magic shows. They know that people are aware that they are faking it, and they know that people are constantly looking for how they are faking it. The real appeal of a magician then is that they are constantly making the audience think that one thing is going on when they are really setting up a much bigger thing. So, on the surface, Our Town is fundamentally about a small town in America. It focuses mostly on just a small town romance between two clean-cut kids, but it is more than that. It is not so much about the town, but largely about the human condition.
The meta aspect of the play is that the play starts at the two characters’ wedding, but then the stage manager decides that he wants to show you the moment that they knew that they were going to get married, and he wants to show you the reaction. So it is about how humans react to the nature of a thing.
That is why one of the great ironies of American theater is that one of its most famous plays, Our Town, has no sets. It is a whole play about a town, but there is never any physical representation of the town. That is the brilliant meta feat about it; essentially what it is saying is that a town really isn’t the buildings of the town, but it is the people who occupy the town. So what I mean with the magician analogy is that a meta play is partly a challenge to the audience – the play knows that you have seen other works of fiction like this, and the play wants you to know that they know you have seen other works like this, but they are still saying that the physical town is a place you are not going to see.