Trinity Rep's winter show of their 51st season is "Middletown" by Will Eno. It is gut wrenching, poignant and funny new show that explores the universe of a small American town. Middletown is built on the site of other Middletowns. Named this way because they were built between other towns which no one remembers. As a friendship develops between John Dodge and recent arrival Mrs. Swanson, the lives of the inhabitants intersect in strange and compelling ways in a journey that takes them from the local library to outer space and points in between. It is a powerful meditation on birth, death and everything that takes place between them. People don't connect with each other any more due to computers, cell phones and modern technology. Human connection with each other is what each character is searching for in this play. This show deals with the universal themes of love, loneliness, elation, forgiveness, disappointment and redemption. Director Curt Columbus casts these roles wonderfully, eliciting terrific performances from his ten member cast in various roles. He gives each of them their chance to shine individually and as an ensemble. Bravo!
The show is reminiscent of "Our Town" as if it was written by Stoppard or Beckett. The first act mainly consists of monologues where we meet the residents, a librarian, a cop, a mechanic, a handyman and a tour guide. Mrs. Swanson wants to start a family and decides to get a library card after she moves to town. The audience meets the characters in this opening act however the strength of its script lies in the powerful second act that reaches out to grab you with its dramatic power and punch. This is where you become really interested in what is happening, where they finally make human connections and the real enjoyment of the evening lies. The transformation of these characters is splendid and well done as director Columbus brings their talents to fruition.
I don't want to reveal too many details of the show, spoiling things for the audience. Joe Wilson Jr. delivers a nuanced performance as the Policeman, describing the town and its inhabitants. He has a startling scene with the mechanic near the start of the show but his standout moment comes later on when he receives devastating news about a loved one. He and Janice Duclos as the librarian have a touching scene here as well as in a hospital scene later on.However the show has lighter moments, too. Some of the comic scenes include the disinterested tour guide played wonderfully by Rebecca Gibel and the demanding tourists marvelously played by Rachael Warren and Fred Sullivan Jr. who also plays the speaker at the start of the show, spouting some non sequitur lines that are hilarious. The performers portraying the audience commenting on the show at the end of the first act is also a hoot.
Angela Brazil and Mauro Hantman shine as Mary and John, displaying a great array of emotions as these two characters. They deliver the goods in comic moments in the first act but stop the show with their powerhouse scenes in Act 2. Mary, John, the mechanic and cop face overwhelming grief in the second act. The mechanic is excellently played by Lee Osorio. His most powerful and meaningful lines are "I want to be loved by someone. I want to be beautiful" and his pill scene with Rachel as the Doctor in the second act is outstanding. She also has a terrific scene in the hospital with her real life husband, Mauro when she reveals his prognosis. Also phenomenal is Mauro's last scene which tugs on the heartstrings of the audience. His acting in this scene is superb. Kudos to Trinity for picking a contemporary show that audiences will be able to relate to on many different levels. To witness some magnificent acting and direction, be sure to catch "Middletown" at Trinity Repertory Company. A word of praise to Deb O for the fantastic replicas of wooden Houses used as a background symbolizing Middletowns across America.