The London Community Player’s production of Will Eno’s “Middletown” is a great example of the existential investigation one hopes to find in any work of art. Directed by John Gerry, and produced by Ashleigh Barney, Middletown is the modern adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s classic tale of early 20th Century struggle, “Our Town.” Middletown displays that the same existential crisis of mediocrity displayed in Our Town can still be found a century later. The municipality of Middletown could be any rural community, and its universality is mirrored in the truths it holds. Middletown was founded as “Middenton” some innumerable years ago, and since then one constant driving force has been present, the force of the series of seemingly random events commonly referred to as life. As freelance biographer (David Pasquino) so eloquently puts it “life is a mystery, and then the middle, and then another mystery.” Middletown is concerned with all three, but particularly with the middle portion. It is a place filled with constant new beginnings and empty promises, as evidenced by the subtle chirping birds, and lonely crickets utilized by sound designer and operator Andrew Johnson and Anne Cuthbert.
The play opens with the characters strolling unconcernedly about the stage in and almost random alignment, cast in ominously dark lighting. The cast exits in their separate parties, leaving the public speaker (Allan Pero) centre stage to address the audience. His address makes it abundantly clear to the audience that the story they are about to witness is one which applies universally. Pero acts as an outside observer offering up sage wisdom and simple truths to all. His roles as the Speaker, Male Doctor, and Greg the astronaut are important highlights throughout the show. Deighton Thomas’ Cop operates much in the same way. Thomas weaves in and out of the story, always ready with his flashlight of insight or a strong forearm to sometimes literally choke you of your idleness and fill you with a sense of wonder and awe, “like a good human being”.
The shows’ poignant core is found in Mary Swanson (Kara Gulliver) and John Dodge (Jeff Werkmeister) two would-be lovers. Mary is a lonely housewife with a husband who is seemingly never at home, and John is a local handyman and jack-of-all-trades who falls for Mary after a second chance meeting. Their relationship is the backdrop through which the other characters drift in and out. The relationship is made all the more meaningful by the dialectical lighting techniques of Karen Crichton and Lael Kim. Josh Cottrell is sublime as the Mechanic, a local vagrant who offers not only comic relief, a glimpse of the unfulfillment which befalls many.
Throughout the first two acts, two large frames hang almost always unaccompanied. Like vapid blackboards it represents the emptiness inside us all, as well as the endless possibility. As Cottrell’s Native American rain dance near the end of the show indicates “people can watch a dance and realize the history of the world,” the same can be said of a play.
Middletown is playing at The Palace Theatre during the following times:
September 17-19, 23-26 at 8:00pm
Matinee: September 20 at 2:00pm