Updated: Mar 20, 2019
Will Eno’s existential-leaning play Middletown, which won the Horton Foote Promising New Play of 2010, breaks some barriers. It’s kind of an Our Town for a new generation. It’s absurdist, it’s funny, and it’s thoughtful exposition on what happens between birth and death.
It’s Anywhere, USA, and the town’s inhabitants are just like you and me except they express things many of us think about yet don’t or can’t verbalize. The issues of contradictions of life and living is the real mystery to solve here. They find oddity in words. “Rock,” says one inhabitant to a town cop. “Good word. Solid.”
Director Ela Rose successfully leads a quite talented cast for Las Vegas Little Theatre through the opening and first act. As lit by Ginny Adams, at first blush Ron Lindblom’s set appears to be cut out of a comic book or graphic novel. The play is actually a series of vignettes and Linblom’s set adapts well to each setting.
Enter Kyle Jones as a Public Speaker who goes through a litany of folks he’s purportedly addressing as he moves into the audience, picking out various people. It’s a long, tough bit and Jones hits the right notes, setting the tone of the play. He takes on multiple roles throughout the show and finds distinct enough differences to keep them fresh and funny. As the Public Speaker, he’s at ease and pointedly direct; as the Freelance Writer, he nervously obsesses.
It’s really an ensemble piece with half the cast taking on multiple roles as the denizens display the quirky characteristics we all have but typically hide. Cathy Ostertag, Jessica Deihl, Mike Kimball, and Kim Glover round out the inhabitants, and morph from doctor or nurse to tour guide or janitor. Each one is well-defined.
In singular roles, Stacia Zinkevich (Mrs. Swanson) and Tom Chrastka (John Dodge) bring us a couple of lost souls; she a newly arrived housewife whose husband is often gone, he a befuddled handyman between jobs and relationships. They’re drawn together and Chrastka and Zinkevich both find the awkwardness of inappropriate attraction. Their delivery of lines is at times perfectly halting and stilted, yet the timing necessary to keep the pace and inject the humor remains.
The giddiness and lightness of being shine through in the Librarian. Teresa Fullerton is having fun with the role. She keeps her head high, her movements short and quick, and the attitude that life is all sunshine and lollipops, or soon will be, is forever evident in her delivery. She uses sly movements and slight expressions to hint at the absurdity of the situations.
Jake Taylor plays the Mechanic, the town ne’er-do-well, typically drunk or high, or looking for his next hit to ease his mind, to fill some unknown void. Taylor interacts with the audience, easily breaking the fourth wall, and keeps his focus on the demons within. There’s a natural ease to the way he moves on a stage that engages the audience.
The steroetyped good-cop/bad cop is rolled into one as Michael DelaRosa, Jr. delights in allowing both to come out at various times under different situations. He’s gruff, he’s kind, he watches over his charges with intent, and DelaRosa brings a perfect note of underlying malice and righteousness, even when he’s being nice. He wields his baton and other accoutrements of authority with august pride.
There’s a jarring separation at the end of Act 1, as cast members play fake audience members during a staged intermission and comment on the play we’ve been watching. And when Act 2 begins, it seems to have jarred the pacing and intent of the play.
The cast inserts a dour thoughtfulness, a realist sensibility, into the situations encountered as life plays out its constant contradictions. Pacing became sluggish, the line delivery of absurdist comedy squelched into thoughtful reality.
Director Ken Rus Schmoll opined, as he created the unusual atmosphere for the play’s initial 2010 Off-Broadway run, the script is wily; it’s easy to get lost in the drama of the second act, and care must be taken to maintain the humor and pace.
Still, Rose’s is an interesting production. It evokes the question ‘Will it all turn out okay?’ Between birth and death, there’s this crazy truth in the appearance of confusion we all face in the search for meaning in life. And, as one character glibly states in a throw-away but funny line: “It’s been going on for years.”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday - Sunday through January 31
2 p.m. Saturday, January 23
Where: Las vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff drive
Tickets: $21 - $24 (702-362-7996; www.lvlt.org)
Grade: *** (Satisfying)
Producer: Las Vegas Little Theatre; Director: Ela Rose; Assistant Director: Aaron Oetting; Set Design: Ron Lindblom; Lighting Design: Ginny Adams; Sound Design: Sandy Stein; Costume Design: Kim Glover; Stage Manager: Karen Gibson; Deck Manager: Kendra Harris