Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Thornton Wilder's classic play Our Town examined pain as a necessary condition for experiencing joy. In Middletown, playwright Will Eno revisits this theme, painting a surreal picture of everyday life in an aptly named non-specific town, where the inhabitants puzzle over life and death and how to fill the moments in between. Wilder fans will spot a familiar theme in Eno's emphasis on life and death as part of the continuing cycle of earthly renewal. Appropriately, the town library keeps its books on childbirth in the business collection.
Eno's play, witty though a tad overlong, is filled with episodes both conventional and bizarre, and peopled with endearingly odd characters. The plot, such as it is, involves the relationship between Mrs. Swanson, a young woman who has just moved into town but is lonely due to her husband's constant travel, and John Dodge, a divorced and underemployed handyman looking for ways to fill the emptiness of his life. Other town residents include a chronically cheerful librarian, an erratic policeman, an astronaut, the town drunk, and a pair of tourists who have come to see the town's seemingly unremarkable historic sites. Like its famous predecessor, Eno's play is self-referential; a Stage Manager-type character (a nice turn by Kyle Jones) introduces the play, and just before intermission we are treated to a row of audience members commenting on their impressions of act one.
As a play, Middletown will not be everyone's cup of tea, but the Las Vegas Little Theatre is giving it a first-rate production. As a result, a willingness to suspend disbelief and experience the simple yearnings of the characters will be richly rewarded.
The cast members inhabit their characters honestly and without irony. As the mercurial policeman, Michael DelaRosa Jr. is good cop and bad cop rolled into one. Teresa Fullerton's librarian may have taken just a few too many happy pills, but she comforts those in pain. Jake Taylors neer-do-well mechanic buries his painful childhood in alcohol and pills, but cheerfully performs his mandatory community service, doing a rain dance in full Indian gear in the children's ward of the hospital. Mike Kimball is equally impressive as the astronaut who finds the Earth more miraculous than the stars, and as the obstetrician who fires off canned medical advice to a fearful expectant mother without even looking up from his iPad. The weirdness of the characters derives from human doubts, fears, and loneliness; sometimes their own, sometimes those projected upon them by others.
In this bizarro world, only a handful of characters resemble real people, making these roles the most demanding. As Mrs. Swanson and John Dodge, respectively, Stacia Zinkevich and Thom Chrastka are outstanding. They are our anchors in this crazy storm of a town. Their worries and their pain are palpable. It is hard to imagine anyone portraying this pair with greater authenticity.
Ela Rose's direction is clean and deceptively simple. Although the show is well paced, the excessive length of Eno's script becomes noticeable in act two.
Ron Lindblom's set design finds different ways to wall people offin their tiny houses, on park benches, in hospital rooms, in their too-small (and disintegrating) theater seats, in a space capsule, or behind the library service deskall images that evoke human isolation. Ginny Adams' masterful lighting design continues this theme; especially noteworthy is her projection of stars while the orbiting astronaut talks to far-away mission control about the most miraculous planet of all.
Middletown continues through January 31, 2016 (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm; additional matinee Sat., Jan. 23, at 2 pm) at Las Vegas Little Theatre's Mainstage, 3920 Schiff Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89103. Tickets ($21-$24) and information are available at lvlt.org.
Mechanic: Jake Taylor
Directed by Ela Rose; set design by Ron Lindblom; costume design by Kim Glover; sound design by Sandy Stein.