College of Marin goes deep into suburbia onstage
Welcome to Middletown. Population: stable. Elevation: same. They call the main street Main Street. They named the side streets after trees. Things are fairly predictable. People come; people go.
That paraphrasing of some of the introductory dialogue from Middletown, running now at the College of Marin through Dec. 8, is as much of a plot summary as one can glean from the goings-on in Will Eno’s (The Realistic Joneses) theatrical slice of Americana.
The residents of Middletown are as middle-of-the-road as the show title would suggest. There’s a small town ne’er do well (Luke Baxter) who’s hassled by a local cop (Ryan Pesce); an overly-helpful librarian (Floriana Alessandria) who’s thankful that Mary Swanson (Katherine Rupers), a new resident, has come in to apply for a library card because she thinks “a lot of people figure, ‘Why bother? I’m just going to die, anyway.’”; and a lonely handyman named John (Paymon Ghazanfarpour) who’s between two lousy jobs. He just doesn’t know what the second one is yet.
Small-town activities like sightseeing play out on minimalist sets in ‘Middletown.’
Various other characters come in and out but the central relationship, such as it is, is the one between the new resident and the handyman. Mary wants to build a family and is soon expecting. Her absentee husband leaves an opening for John—at least he thinks so—but life has its way of getting in the way of things. Soon there’s a birth; soon there’s a death. Life goes on in Middletown.
Which I guess is Eno’s point. The great commonality between the inhabitants of this planet is that we all are born and we all will die. What we do in the middle of those two events we call life and most lives are unexceptional.
And that’s OK. Late in the second act, one character asks another, “What do you want out of life?” The character responds, “To know love.” Who doesn’t? That is what makes a seemingly unexceptional life exceptional.
Molly Noble directs a strong cast (I was particularly taken with Baxter’s work) and the intimate studio theater setting serves them and the story well. The action—and I use that term loosely—takes place on a minimalist set in the middle of the theater with the audience placed on either side.
Middletown is a melancholy piece. It meanders and rambles, goes to irrelevant places and is occasionally full of itself. You know, like this review. And life.