Give yourself over to the gentle lilt of Red Stitch’s final play for 2016 and you will be well rewarded. Middletown is enchanting, and its major theme that it is extraordinary to be just an ordinary living person is beautifully rendered.
We are taken into the world of people going about their daily lives without any hint of sentimentality. Playwright, Will Eno, certainly succeeds in depicting his characters so naturalistically that the well-known quote by Henry Thoreau came to mind, ‘Most people lead lives of quiet desperation and go the grave with the song still in them.’ Eno’s sensitive writing enables the audience to really connect with his characters as they display the gamut of human emotions and encounter all sorts of trials and tribulations.
Eno portrays characters lurching from friendly encounters to the depths of loneliness. Characters receiving kind gestures one minute and then suffering verbal abuse from authorities the next. Not too dissimilar to Dylan Thomas’ Under the Milkwood, the audience is taken to a place of ordinariness, some place in the USA, which becomes a beautiful place because of the people within it. Eno has written an array of characters who share the stage, all with differing agendas, burdens and joys.
The main narrative centres on the relationship between John Dodge (Gareth Reeves) and Mary Swanson (Chrissy O’Neil). John’s a drifter with no one in his life. He goes to the library and borrows a book on gravity as one way to combat the boredom. At the library, he meets Mary, Middletown newcomer. She’s pregnant and is not coping with her husband’s persistent absence from home due to work. Mary and John (ordinary names) make a connection with each other with unsteady conversation. They meet a couple of more times and then one final time in the second half of the play which is extremely moving and well-acted.
It was so good to see Evelyn Krape on stage playing an array of quirky characters; I must admit I have not seen any of her work for quite a few years and it was great to see her at Red Stitch. She still has that feisty, impeccable comic timing and she added much humour to the evening.
James Wardlaw’s direct address to the audience at the top of the show set the excellent standard of acting that was to follow. Wardlaw played the Public Speaker welcoming all and sundry to the play’s performance; from the unhappy people to those who suffer from asthma. This opening address lasted a good three minutes and set the scene of the mundanity that prevails in Middletown.
Jordan Fraser-Trumble and Edwina Samuels both played multiple roles with honesty and skill. They created the necessary pathos in many of their scenes. Samuels’ poignant moment as a hospital attendant as she viewed the dead patient in front of her was well executed. Eno’s skill at communicating what we really mean when we talk about the cycle of life was evident.
The clever and compact set designed by Emily Collett was a myriad of small alcoves that covered each side of the stage, each housing mundane, everyday objects. It was busy set and highly symbolic.
The fourth wall was broken many times during the play which added to its immediacy and of course encouraged the audience to feel part of the action, that they too lived in Middletown. A bit of meta-theatre was inserted in the last scene before interval where the entire cast behaved like audience members unpacking the play that we had just viewed. Each character’s sense of the play was voiced and again the audience felt part of the whole theatrical game.
The Red Stitch ensemble once again has excelled in displaying wonderful naturalistic acting, never heightened or never dull. The ensemble has produced tender theatre here.
Middletown by Will Eno
Red Stitch Theatre
20 November to 19 December