Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Were it not for the fine actors on stage, this play would have been a real snooze.  Notwithstanding the fact that this is an award winning play, it doesn't guarantee an engaged and awake audience.  Playwright Will Eno took a lofty academic subject and has tried to translate that into action on stage.  The problem is that the play is about nothing.  Literally.  So was the TV show Seinfeld, you might quip.  The difference is, this is a serious drama, not a light hearted comedy.  Boring and drama is a deadly combination on stage.

Now let me get back to my first statement.  Were it not for the actors Michael Park (cop), Heather Burns (Mrs. Swanson), Linus Roache (John Dodge), and James McMehamin (mechanic) and Georgia Engel (librarian), we might be talking about a train wreck.  Instead, they've taken this material and worked miracles.  Michael Park (recently seen in Burnt Part Boys) exudes just the right mix of loneliness, anger, and suburban frustration alongside small town popularity and familiar like-ability.  Linus Roach (most recognizable for his role as Jack McCoy's ADA replacement on Law and Order) turns in a fascinating study in strange, off-beat, lonely and friendly all wrapped up in one.   Heather Burns is a convincing pregnant lonely suburban housewife who's husband is perennially out of town on business.  James McMenamin aptly portrays the perfect "lost" kid who has a storied past, uncertain present, and hopeless future.  Georgia Engel quite possibly was the perfect pick for the innocent, naive, yet solidly grounded town librarian with eternal hope and endless love.

So what was this play about?  The main theme of birth, death and everything in-between (hence the title Middletown) is a good summation.  Where are we going?  How do we know when we get there? Where did we come from?  Why are we here?  Pretty heavy, academic stuff, huh?  In the end, the subject matter and words on the page probably deserved high praise and recognition with the Pulitzer.  However, when translated to the stage, it somehow loses its power and punch and looks more like a sad indictment of our suburban (or even American) plight overall.  The opening monologue to the audience was awkward (was it part of the play or done for the theatre?).  The end of Act I with the "onstage audience" was clever, but upon reflection, a bit insulting.  (Am I perceived by the playwright or director to be that dumb that I need this explained to me?).

An unfair early review, I don't think so.  Technically, there were no problems - lighting, scenery, and sound - all top notch.  I especially loved the astronaut radio communication scene sound effects and night sky lighting.  Actors turned in top notch, solid, and well rehearsed performances. Perhaps not my cup of tea, i admit.  But at least I stayed for Act II.  I can't say that for about a dozen or so of my fellow audience members.  At the Vineyard Theatre, that's a high percentage.