Monday, February 27, 2012


MIDDLETOWN, a fine absurdist comedy at Dobama

MIDDLETOWN, Will Eno’s absurdist comedy, has been characterized as, “a piece that's a bit like Thornton Wilder's Our Town if it had been penned by Dr. Seuss and edited by Samuel Beckett.” It’s a perfect description.

This is a profoundly wise script. In fact, that is probably why this isn’t a play for everyone. As a woman behind me said to her companion at intermission, “I don’t understand this.” They walked out of the theatre and didn’t come back for the second act.

Eno is not your run-of-the mill writer. He knows language well. He uses language well. He wrings meanings out of phrases that, on the surface, appear too abstract for understanding. His explanation of the parallel between people and rocks is far too complex to discuss here, but as two of the characters talk, and one makes a sculpture piece out of pieces of rocks, the concept becomes crystal clear.

To grasp Eno’s flow, you have to know the characters. There’s a quixotic-like librarian, a very confused handyman in search of the purpose in life, a pregnant young wife whose husband is like the invisible man, a thoughtful doctor, a well-meaning nurse, an over-compensating town cop, a former con who is a mechanic, a landscaper, and a town guide who seems to know nothing about the town.

As in OUR TOWN, the days of the play are not unusual days. they are ordinary, like the lives of most people. The existences of the people of MIDDLETOWN all intersect, like the streets on the map on the floor of the theatre, in random, yet patterned ways. Their journey takes them from the public library to outer space, from their homes to the hospital.

Eno, in the words of his characters, asks, “How does this whole thing [life] work?” and “What do you want out of life?”

MIDDLETOWN inhabits empty space, and, like many absurdist plays, asks why we exist, while showing how out-of-kilter life really is. There is only the asking of questions, not the giving of answers.

Dobama’s production, under the focused direction of Joel Hammer, wrings all it can out of the script. The cast is universally fine, not a weak actor in the bunch.

As the Public Speaker, Robert Hawkes, like the stage manger in OUR TOWN, explains to us the rules of engagement between the audience and the actors, in a long but very funny opening speech. He pops in again as a ground control NASA director, a man, and a doctor. This blending of characters is the nature of the play. As in life, most people are interchangeable.

Jason Markouc, the obsessive town cop with some anger issues, Fabio Polanco, the mechanic who borders on being mad, Emily Demko as the ineffective town guide, Maryann Elder as a female tourist and female doctor, and Mark Mayo as a landscaper, are all character correct.

Carly Germany, as Mrs. Swanson, a town newcomer and pregnant mom, develops a meaningful characterization. Tom Woodward, as a confused, frustrated, self-doubting handy man, is excellent, as is Laura Starnik, the town librarian, who has her thumb on the pulse of MIDDLETOWN.

Laura Carlson’s creative scenic design works well, as does the lighting design by Marcus Dana and the sound design of Richard Ingraham.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you don’t like to think, MIDDLETOWN may not be a play for you. But, for anyone willing to put in a little effort, this thought provoking absurdist comedy, is your thing.