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Will Eno’s “Middletown” Is a Deeply Moving and Profoundly Comic Look at Small-Town Life

"Middletown" opens Sept. 29th (image by Bethany Bash)

"Middletown" opens Sept. 29th (image by Bethany Bash)

Manbites Dog Theater will stage the regional premiere of Middletown by critically acclaimed Brooklyn, NY playwright Will Eno on Sept. 29-Oct. 1 and Oct. 6-9 and 12-15 in its downtown Durham, NC theater. Eno’s rambling one-man show Thom Pain (based on nothing), which Manbites Dog performed in June 2006, was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Manbites Dog artistic director Jeff Storer will stage Middletown with a cast that includes David J. Berberian, Chris Burner, Barbara Dickinson, Thaddaeus Edwards, Madeleine Lambert, Bart Matthews, Jeffrey Moore, Tara-Whitney Rison, and Chaunesti Webb.

According to Manbites Dog Theater:

Welcome to Middletown. We’ve all been there. Meet the inhabitants of a small town whose lives seem unsurprising and ordinary. But life is always more complicated than it appears, and beneath the ordinary lies something epic, elusive, and mysterious. Experience a deeply moving and deeply comic new work by the author of Oh, the Humanity,” which Manbites Dog performed in December 2010.

When Middletown opened Off-Broadway on Nov. 3, 2010, some critics raved:

CURTAIN UP: “More than likely the title of Will Eno’s new play will bring to mind [Our Town,] Thornton Wilder’s classic story of a small town. It follows that the character known only as Cop who … is Eno’s version of the [Stage] Manager.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES: “The strange beauty of life and its sometimes unbearable weight are both considered with a screwball lyricism in Will Eno’s new play Middletown …. In this delicate, moving and wry amble along the collective road to nowhere, the folks are friendly, and the view of star-dappled skies and modest homes is familiar and comforting.”

NEW YORK MAGAZINE: “Middles of every variety are irresistible Petri dishes for the absurd. Middle America, middling lives, ‘the middle distance’ (a phrase Edward Albee lip-smackingly macerated in his latest, Me Myself & I): Nothing beckons the Beckettian like the gaping promise of empty space. (Luckily, it’s still this nation’s top export.) The suspension of a body, or a country, or a cosmos, between two poles that are themselves increasingly obscure and abstract and arbitrary, the closer one looks at them — that’s a gleaming beacon for the pomo wanderer. So it’s no surprise that Will Eno, author of the celebrated shoegazer monologue Thom Pain (based on nothing), has pitched his tent in the vast, empty American Middle.”

Other critics had some reservations:

VARIETY: “Will Eno seems determined to subdue his minimalist impulses in Middletown, a provocative but egregiously overwritten piece about life and death and the monumental struggle to get through the day without killing yourself. Something of a postmodern cut-and-paste job on Our Town, this surreal fantasy of daily life in a small town allows residents to step out from behind their ordinary persona and assert their individuality in the eccentric idiom that the scribe perfected in Off-Broadway hit Thom Pain (based on nothing). A fine idea, if only Eno hadn’t focused his play on the two dullest citizens in town.”

NEW JERSEY NEWSROOM: “Some people will find Middletown to be a beautiful — perhaps even a profound — study in human existence. Others may well dismiss Will Eno’s latest drama as just so much obvious, overwritten bosh.”

SECOND OPINION: Sept. 25th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Glenn McDonald: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/09/25/1512194/thats-25-in-theater-years.html.

Manbites Dog Theater presents MIDDLETOWN at 8:15 p.m. Sept. 29-Oct. 1 and Oct. 6-8, 3:15 p.m. Oct. 9, and 8:15 p.m. and Oct. 12-15 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.

TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $17 Friday-Saturday, except Sept. 29th pay-what-you-can preview (door sales only, $5 minimum), $5 Student Rush Tickets, and $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel.

BOX OFFICE: 919/682-3343 or http://manbitesdogtheater.tix.com/.

SHOW: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/383/.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/5/.

OTHER LINKS:

The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Eno (Wikipedia).

The Director: http://theaterstudies.duke.edu/ (Duke University Department of Theater Studies).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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