The regional premiere of Will Eno’s 2010 Off-Broadway dramedy Middletown, now playing at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC, is a look at small-town life, circa 2010, with a gimlet eye. Middletown will inevitably be compared to Thornton Wilder’s 1938 three-act masterpiece Our Town and Charles Aidman’s 1963 adaptation and arrangement of the pungent portraits of Edgar Lee Masters’ poetic masterpiece Spoon River Anthology into a two-act play.
Although narrower in scope and lacking the resonance of its dramatic predecessors, Middletown unfolds in a series of vivid vignettes featuring sometimes witty and even poetic wordplay. But it is not nearly as poetic overall or as powerful as Our Town and Spoon River Anthology; and Middletown’s residents may be more flamboyant than their ancestors in Grover’s Corners, NH or the Spoon River region of Illinois, but the small-town lives that playwright Will Eno samples for Middletown are a fairly predictable cross-section of contemporary sitcom characters.
Manbites Dog’s robust rendition of Middletown boasts charismatic characterizations by recent Duke University graduate Madelaine Lambert as Mrs. Swanson, a woman struggling with loneliness because her husband always seems to be somewhere else; Triangle theater veteran Thaddeus Edwards as Mrs. Swanson’s friend and kindred spirit John Dodge, whose loneliness is compounded by health problems; David J. Berberian as an acerbic small-town Cop; Barbara Dickinson as the town Librarian, who knows where all the local skeletons are buried; and Jeffrey M. Moore as the town drunk, who marches to the beat of a different drummer and works as an automobile Mechanic during his periods of sobriety.
Manbites Dog artistic director Jeff Storer not only gets vibrant performances from his principal performers, but also elicits memorable work from the rest of a fine supporting cast that includes Chris Burner, Bart Matthews, Tara-Whitney Rison, and Chaunesti Webb. Set and costume designer Derrick Ivey, lighting designer Andrew Parks, and sound designer Joe Keilholz also work their theatrical magic on Middletown, which kicks off an ambitious 25th season for one the Triangle’s foremost proponents of cutting-edge theater.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 5th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/middletown/Content?oid=2673703; Oct. 3rd Raleigh, NC CVNC (Classical Voice of North Carolina) review by Jeffrey Rossman: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5093; and Sept. 25th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Glenn McDonald: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/09/25/1512194/thats-25-in-theater-years.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 29th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/09/will-enos-middletown-is-a-deeply-moving-and-profoundly-comic-look-at-small-town-life/.)
Manbites Dog Theater presents MIDDLETOWN at 8:15 p.m. 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 $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/.
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Eno (Wikipedia).
The Director: http://theaterstudies.duke.edu/ (Duke University Department of Theater Studies).
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 review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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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/.