Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: Middletown at HPT is AWESOME!!!

Not quite halfway into Middletown, now playing at Hyde Park Theatre, I couldn't stop myself. I fumbled in the dark for my little notebook and pen, trying hard not to be disruptive. A line had been uttered that so tickled me in its simultaneous simplicity and profundity that I just had to capture it on paper that very moment.

As I extracted my notebook, I had a flashback to another play that inspired this must-jot-it-down-now response. That was Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), and it was also at Hyde Park Theatre, back in 2007. In fact it was watching HPT creative director Ken Webster perform so amazingly Thom Pain (a one-man show) that launched me into what is now my sixth year of writing reviews.

Well, duh. Turns out that it wasn't really a big surprise that both shows prompted me to take notes. Unbeknownst to me-- she-who-doesn't-research-plays-beforehand-- both Thom Pain and Middletown were written by Will Eno. Eno, I assure you, is a man who is deeply in love with language. Yes, yes, we have amazing characters, here. We have plot and tension and timing and action all those other components that make a great play a great play. But most of all, we have language so beautifully wrought that I imagine Eno is the sort of guy who wanders through life with the ability to visualize words as they spill from mouths, to see them as a cross between a complicated math equations and stunning modern dance moves.

Webster, who both directs and appears in Middletown, clearly gets Eno. He takes this language-loving work and intertwines it with a perfectly chosen cast. The result is amazing and I'm kicking myself that I waited so long to see it. Because now there are only three shows left, and it's going to sell out which means not all of you will get to enjoy it. Goddammit. (Aside: when I went to the show on Saturday, mid-ACL, I expected a light turnout. Au contraire-- apparently there are plenty of us who would rather take in a play than endure the teeming masses. It was so nice to see a packed house.)

Getting back to the cast-- Benjamin Summers and Rebecca Robinson are terrific in the lead roles as John and Mrs. Swanson, a couple of lonely people who find each other and have a relationship that is purposefully presented by Eno as ambiguous. And everyone else... oh let me just say what I've said about some other HPT productions I've seen: there is not a weak link in this show. All of the actors bring believability to their roles, and this is more impressive still considering that some of them-- Webster, Dane Krager, Jessica Hughes, Katy Taylor, Marc Balester, and Molly Fonseca-- take on multiple roles.

I could not get enough of Tom Green, Emily Erington and Mical Trejo-- the cop, the librarian and the mechanic-- all of whom inhabit their roles wonderfully. Seriously, if Middletown were an HBO series, I'd give each of these three their own spin-off show. Watching them perform (along with the rest of the cast, natch) was this wonderful reminder of just what an embarrassment of riches we have in this town when it comes to the theatre.

The set, by Ia Enstera, gets a standing ovation, too. As ever there is the visual beauty she brings. But also the functionality allows the tiny HPT stage to be, believably, a number of different settings: park, library, hospital. Kudos to the light, sound and costume folks, too. I mean, really, HPT knocks it out of the park with Middletown.

So here we are, once again, nearing the end of one of my reviews and I have been as purposefully ambiguous as Eno is with the John/Mrs. Swanson relationship. For one thing, I remain staunch in my refusal to give anything away. But here are a few hints: in the opening scenes, you start to get this idea that the play is, like Thom Pain, about nothing. But then all that beautiful language gains purchase in a storyline, and we begin to piece together what is going on. There's a hilarious Moment of Meta in the middle. And I warn you that you might feel a little bit of bait-and-switch later in the evening as the rather funny first half gives way to a super heavy second half. But as the saying goes, it's all good-- and I mean that as precisely as Eno selects his words. It is ALL GOOD. All great, actually. A super, super show.

Don't be a fool-- reserve your seats today. As noted, only three shows left.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Great and accurate review. Ken Webster stole it for me with his opening monologue and his doctor portrayal ....super smart super funny!!! Monty Pythonesque!!!

My take away from this ....the world has answers to everything ...we can fly to the moon and split an atom. But when asked what we want out of life, most of us, sadly, have no answer. A Seinfeldian show about nothing but normal lives and interaction that makes you think. Awesome