By Hania Jones
The Arts at DCCC debuted their Fall 2016 Student Theater Production of Middletown on Nov. 10. The play, written by Will Enos was inspired and influenced by Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.
According to the DCCC website, Middletown is “a deeply moving and funny new play exploring the universe of a small American town.”
The play’s story centers on a longtime resident of the town, John Dodge (played by Terence Stroman), who befriends a newcomer Mary Swanson (played by Alaina Allen). Their story also meshes with the other characters of the town who have their own eccentricities and issues that are ordinary in life.
Dodge, a depressed man who cannot cope with divorce, meets Swanson at the library and they become friends. Swanson is planning her eventual pregnancy and is looking up books about childbirth, while her husband is away.
Dodges’ and Swanson’s story overlaps with the lives of the townspeople. There is a mechanic, librarian, police officer, tour guide and an astronaut who lead ordinary lives and whose issues are no different from the main characters.
Stephen Smith, the assistant professor of theater and director of the play, describes its theme as being about life.
“People really don’t realize the value of the lives while living them,” Smith said. “It is the little connections that we form that are important.”
Another theme Smith addresses about the play is loneliness.
“The people in the play that are trying to connect are lonely, and once in a while they do,” Smith said. “I told my actors that each of you is a lonely person to get them to understand their character’s fronts.”
Allen, who plays Swanson, shares a little insight about her character.
“I think she spends a lot of time making other people feel better about their situation, especially John,” said Alaina Allen about her character. “She’s got it rough, but she tries to stay positive and no one notices that she is very lonely on the inside.”
In the play, Dodge uses humor to mask his depression and loneliness while Swanson uses optimism to mask the loneliness of not having her husband by her side during pregnancy.
Other characters, such as the mechanic, tourist, and the librarian are also seen having alternate personas, but also trying to connect to the town as well.
Hyresh Davis, who plays the lawbreaker mechanic by the name of Craig, shares some insight about his character.
“He’s an alcoholic actually,” Davis said. “He’s just somebody that is probably misunderstood. He wants to get back on his feet. He wants to find love and he wants to find acceptance, basically.”
The climax occurs when both Swanson and Dodge are in the emergency room for different reasons. Swanson is about to welcome a new life while Dodge welcomes death.
“Dodge tries to commit suicide. But then appreciates life when he is dying, which is ironic.” Smith said. “And it ends up if you noticed, Mary does not realize that Dodge died after the birth of her child. Life’s going to go on regardless.”
Meanwhile, Craig the mechanic overcomes some of his struggles as he gains insight about life.
“He feels beautiful again,” Davis said of his character. “As he says in the play.”
The play is one of the many different productions that the theater has chosen.
“We decided to pick something modern,” Smith said. “So this is not sort of the popular plays that we do like Arsenic and Old Lace and Shakespeare. It’s more of a dry, dark humor. It’s quirky.”
According to its playbook, Middletown is inspired by existentialism, which is about the exploration and willingness of people’s existence without having a label to define who they are. Eno is considered the 21st century Samuel Beckett, who was a playwright who dealt with dark humor.
The actors felt DCCC students could relate to the play.
“You might be walking down the halls and might see someone pass by, but do you really stop and have a real conversation,” Allen said. “How many people do you see outside of school and you know?”
“I can definitely relate to that,” said Eve Taylor, who played the small role of a bored tourist in the play. “Honestly, I’m right out of high school and all of my friends are at Temple, Manhattan, and New York. I stayed here and I’m at community college.”
Audience members also shared their comments about the play.
“A little strange,” audience member Steven Marx said. “Performance was terrific and meant to provoke a lot of thought about our purpose.”
“A little offbeat,” said Denise Rambo, an executive assistant of HSE. “The play was abstract, but I enjoyed it.”
Smith says there hasn’t been a decision on what the next production will be in April, but he hinted it will be a musical.
According to Smith, that they will hold open auditions in late January.
“[Auditions] are open to everyone.” Smith added. “Most are theater students, but students from different majors can audition.”
Contact Hania Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org