Middletown Review

If you missed the Davidson College Department of Theatre's production of Middletown, directed by Callan Gies '17, this weekend, this review will catch you up.

Middletown, written by Will Eno, tells the story of a small town, where everyone feels a little lonely sometimes. A young woman, Mary, played by Savannah Deal '18, moves in, planning to settle down and start a family with her constantly traveling husband. She meets an anxious and somewhat depressed man named John, played by Ryan Rotella '17, and the two become friends. We also see the stories of the town librarian, a cop, a drunk, some tourists, a tour-guide, an astronaut, and some doctors. The largest problem with the play is that it had no plot. There was no driving force moving events forward, which made it feel more like a series of vignettes than a story. That might have been meant to show the timelessness that small-town America evokes, but at points it just made the play feel slow and disconnected.

One of the coolest aspects of the production was that the actors sat in and engaged with the audience. About ten minutes before curtain the actors came in and took a seat within the audience, then stood up and started speaking when the show began. They did the same thing after intermission, only they discussed the events of act one as they sat in the audience. They treated the audience like they were members of the Middletown community, which made the play more interactive and immersive. It was all very meta.

Serious props to the actors for their incredible performances. Savannah Deal was a sweet but isolated Mary, an outsider looking for something to latch on to. Ryan Rotella delivered a strong performance, not only in his portrayal of the anxiety-disorder which John suffers from, but also the illness that later takes him. It was a difficult role that he absolutely nailed. Graham Marema '17 and Blake Steinberg '17 played hilarious tourists, trying to see interesting things but not the kind of thing that everyone wants to see. Basically, your everyday small town tourists. Sam Giberga '19 gave a riveting performance of the guy who thought he was going somwhere, but never managed to get out into the world, and was countered by the desperately lonely but awkward cop, played by Matt Hunter '18. The performers delivered interesting, struggling characters, which overcame a lot of the plot issues and kept the audience engaged.

The set design, by Neil Reda, was fun and versatile. In act one it was just the facades of different colored but similar styled houses, with tables that folded out from the wall. Characters came in and went out through the doors of the homes, and there was a nice little bench in the center. Everything was very colorful, in bright red, blues, and yellows. During intermission, the actors moved about the set and turned the facades around, revealing rooms inside. Unlike the colorful counterpart of act one, these were the white walls and boring tiles of hospital rooms. Although it was rather cool when they brought out a planter full of sod and planted a real tree there in the center of the stage. The set started out reflecting the so-called "happy" lives of the citizens of Middletown, that grow more isolated and bleak as the play goes on.

Overall, it was a great production, overcoming some issues of plot through great acting and set design! Congrats to the cast and crew for their hard work!

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