Saturday September 23rd 2017

“Middletown”

Many of us loved the “Seinfeld” television show because it was about “nothing”- just people and their ordinary days and the funny and sometimes touching moments in life. “Our Town” is a play that almost fits that bill as it takes us through some evolution in a small town in rural America. “Middletown”, now onstage at Steppenwolf Theatre is another story about a small town and about nothing as well as some evolution as well. Playwright Will Eno takes us to the town of Middletown where we are a part of the story. The characters speak to us and give us some history about the people and the community. I must tell you that the opening is one that may throw you for a loop, as the Public Speaker ( a fine turn on a wordy speech about nothing by  Tim Hopper) comes out to welcome us. No speech about turn off your cell phone or open your candy now, but right into the script of all the opposites and sameness of life.

From this opening, one might be confused as to where we are going, but director Les Waters takes control and moves us through the scenes as we meet some of the townspeople: The officer ( Danny McCarthy), the Mechanic ( deftly handled by Michael Patrick Thornton, who is quite skilled at handling dry humor), The Librarian ( the always reliable Martha Lavey ), the newcomer in town, Mary Swanson ( a delightful portrayal by Brenda Barrie), and the handyman, John Dodge ( another quality character developed by Tracy Letts). The other cast members, Keith Kupferer, Ora Jones, Molly Glynn and Alana Arenas  take on many other roles along with Mr. Hopper. Mary has just moved to the town, evidently from a large city and is eager to begin a family with her husband ( who is never really of import). When she meets her neighbor John, a lonely self employed handy-man, a sort of bond begins. As time goes on, she finds that what she sees as a quaint little peaceful town is more and that the people are not quite as they appear.

We, the audience , are required to pay close attention to stay with these characters and while there are several comic touches, this play is not “funny”, but indeed, a very sad look at  people and how they live their lives. In fact, the first act ends with a goup of theater goers discussing the first act and what they saw and felt. Confused? Don’t be. Just listen to the words that have been written to convey this story about people and their individual lives. We have all heard the saying that “the grass is always greener on the other side” meaning that what we see from afar looks to be perfection, andwe want it. The problem is, when we get there, it is just what we had in another place. I will not tell you the end of this strong production, but will tell you that we do get to bear witness to a portion of the “life cycle” and that you will want to participate in the discussions that take place after the performance.

The set by  Antje Ellermann is dynamic ( we even get to see a tree planted on stage), the lighting (Matt Frey) is perfect as is the musical interludes and sounds by Richard Woodbury. Steppenwolf always creates a realistic feeling to their productions ad once again, we get to see their design team “do their thing” with very little time used between scenes. “Middletown” will continue through August 14th with performances as follows:

Tuesdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Sundays thru July 24th ONLY also at 7:30 p.m.

Matinees on Saturday and Sundays at 3 p.m. and on Wednesdays, July 27th,August 3rd and 10th at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $20-$73 and are available at the box office located at 1650 N. Halsted, by phone at 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org

STUDENTS: you can purchase your tickets at $15 ( subject to availability) limit 2 must have ID by going online to

www.steppenwolf.org/students

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