BWW Reviews: Thoughtful and Touching MIDDLETOWN at ACT
We don't live in Grover's Corners anymore and a lot has changed in the century since that time. So it stands to reason that a slice of life play like "Middletown", currently playing at ACT would be a darker and grittier ride than its "Our Town" predecessor. And while at times it seems like just a series of platitudes on how to live your life, what makes this production what it is are the stirring and heartfelt performances from the ensemble cast.
It's just another day in Middletown (which could be any town USA). The cop (Matthew Floyd Miller) with a little too much power walks the streets discouraging the local addict (Ray Tagavilla) to move along with a little too much force. The Librarian (Marianne Owen) dispenses her wisdom on a variety of subjects all with a chipper disposition. A couple (R. Hamilton Wright and Sarah Harlett) takes a walking tour of the town searching for more than just landmarks from the insightful tour guide (Renata Friedman). And Mary Swanson (Alexandra Tavares) has just moved into town with her husband to start their family. But with her husband away on business so much Mary befriends her lonely neighbor John (Eric Riedmann) in order to be able to connect with someone in this unfamiliar place.
If "Our Town" would be Americana with its harkening back to a simpler time, Will Eno's "Middletown" would be simply America with all its beauty and pain laid out for all to see. What Eno has done is given us a stark look at modern day small town, USA with insight from the residents themselves as they verbalize much of their inner thoughts directly to us. And while I would have liked a bit more of a connecting arc and through line for the show's eventual payoff, the humor and thoughtfulness of the piece is more than engaging enough to make up for it.
Director John Langs has put together a powerhouse of an ensemble cast and crafted the production with his usual winning style and grace. The entire cast is superb but I must call out a few bits of brilliance. Tagavilla manages to deliver a slightly damaged and borderline dangerous junkie without ever going for the clichés of the archetype which makes him that much more relatable and sympathetic. Owen and Wright turn in their usual intelligent and riveting performances. Owen with her overly attentive librarian creates a kind of heart of the town. And Wright with his multiple incarnations brings a kind reverence to the piece. Aaron Blakely turns in several wonderful moments ranging from an Astronaut on a space walk to a goofy landscaper. Miller's swaggering yet insecure cop is at the same time terrifying and empathetic. And as the couple at the center of it all, Riedmann and Tavares create a wonderful chemistry together of two people who need each other. And Riedmann's arc throughout the play is a complete stunner as he goes from lost to completely broken. And his final moments with Tavares as well as with the Doctor (beautifully played by Sarina Hart) are absolutely heartbreaking.
At times the play may feel like it's not as meaningful as it thinks it is but on the whole it's an engaging look at the lives of everyday people just trying to make it through the world; whether that be through books, pills or just holding someone's hand.
"Middletown" performs at ACT through September 29th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion