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'Middletown': A little of everyone in this dark, dramatic examination of life

Kevin Lusignolo as John Dodge and Patricia Duran as Mary Swanson. Photos by Anthony Rathbun. Courtesy of The Catastrophic Theatre.
Kevin Lusignolo as John Dodge and Patricia Duran as Mary Swanson. Photos by Anthony Rathbun. Courtesy of The Catastrophic Theatre.
Photos by Anthony Rathbun.

This weekend, Catastrophic Theatre premiered "Middletown" by the acclaimed playwright Will Eno. This powerful production includes shady and friendly characters that just might really mirror the inhabitants of your own hometown.

Eno originally wrote “Middletown” in 2010. It was well received after it’s premiere and won the inaugural Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play. Playwright Eno has gone on to create other critically acclaimed plays, including his 2004 one-man play “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” which was so well received he was a Pulitzer-prize finalist. Eno has received countless honors including being commissioned by the Royal National Theatre, being awarded the first-ever Marian Seldes/Garson Kanin Fellowship by the Theater Hall of Fame, as well as the Alfred Hodder Fellowship at Princeton, just to name a few. As with “Middletown”, Eno continues to bring thought provoking, intense plays to the stage.

Bringing this production together creatively included director Kyle Sturdivant, scenic design by Ryan McGettigan, sound by Chris Bakos, costumes by Macy Perrone and props by Lauren Davis. The staging although minimal still appears stunning with the cut out of town houses being the main backdrop of the production. The lighting done by Dustin Tannahill really serves to bring this production together. It helps to draw audience focus or even to create the feel of being in outer space. This production reminds the audience just how important the creative team is to the finished product.

"Middletown" tells the story of a town filled with "normal" people. As the play opens, it sets the tone for the entire production. It's a little offbeat, offers humor mixed with biting reality. This town captures the emotions of all of us: the man filled with fits of rage, the lonely wife, the depressed neighbor, the carefree librarian, the under achieving mechanic along with a borage of other minor characters.

Mary Swanson played by Patricia Duran portrays a relatable, tender hearted and lonely character. In a mix of the slightly zany and offbeat cast, Mary appears the most understandable and honest character. Audiences can sympathize with her, a stranger in a new town, whose husband has yet to arrive from where ever and their hope for a family. Duran seems to be Mary, as I could see her walking off stage mirroring the same sentimentalities as her. We believe her in this role and we empathize, which seems to be needed for the overall production.

Her male counterpart, John Dodge played by Kevin Lusignolo also is a sympathetic and honest character. He seems to be opposite of Mary. Mary is hopeful, jovial although lonely at times, which is where these two characters intersect because John is humble, quiet and lonely. There are just as many Mary's in the world as they are John and both mirror similar struggles and issues in society.

The rest of the town includes a unique mix of inhabitants that range from the kind and sincere to the possibly homicidal and unusual. Kyle Sturdivant's as the mechanic and town drunk gives audiences a glimpse into the “under belly” of it all. He is both harsh and enduring; audiences will be drawn into his wit yet be taken back by his harsh sarcasm. Rutherford Cravens as the cop is stern and domineering, and in all honesty what most expect from how police officers behave. Lindsay Sweeney as the sweet, kind librarian is a humble and appears the most normal of all characters in the play. Sweeney is a delight, like a breath of fresh air in this rather zany cast. Amy Bruce pulls double duty as a tourist and doctor, both of which are very different in personality. Bruce is both whimsical and spirited as the tourist and enduring as the doctor. Kevin Jones' plays the male tourist and gardener, both of which seem quite and humble. Miranda Herbert Aston's Tour Guide is an eccentric and rather unusual character, yet as an attendant she is humble and sincere.

In all, this play seems to speak to the issues and reality in our societies and neighborhoods. This town seems to have a little of who might be in every town, yet as a production it seems to constantly call attention to the fact that it's a play. Prior to intermission, a small audience appears to be watching the same play we are and comment and speculate upon what is happening on stage. It provides an interesting element to the production, seeing people discuss the play you are seeing or having characters stop to address the audience directly. In this play though it seems like at the end just like at intermission, it would have been intriguing to hear what that audience thought of the production because they are just left hanging never to be heard from again.

Overall, this play is deals with everyday life and emotions although it seems like there is more to the story. Catastrophic Theatre brings “Middletown” to life in a dark, intriguing way, yet the play itself feels a bit flat. It seems to explore the human emotion and condition yet fails to give audiences a final solid thought, or perhaps just the “it ends” feel sums it up complete. Life isn’t sealed with a nice, neat bow, it is messy, hard and chaotic and sometimes it just ends.

“Middletown” runs now through June 14, at The Catastrophic Theatre, 1119 East Freeway. Performances are Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. As always, all tickets are Pay What You Can. To check out additional theatre information or purchase tickets, visit http://catastrophictheatre.com or call (713) 522-2723.