There’s an extraordinary depth to Will Eno’s Middletown, from the work’s ability to transcend the mundane aspects of everyday life and reach the lofty heights of our galaxy to its disarming charm and Carroll-esque humour. Red Stitch Theatre has pulled off a remarkable feat in this production, which left the audience in tears of laugher.
Set in a town in the middle of America (named Middletown of course), Eno’s work invites the audience to share in a range of perspectives. From the town’s policeman (James Warlaw) to the librarian (the brilliant Evelyn Krape), the work offers distinct insight into both these characters’ everyday lives and their rather intense philosophical deliberations. The work centres around Mary Swanson (Christina O’Neil) and John Dodge (Gareth Reeves), whose budding friendship sparks some fascinating existential discourse. The whole thing seems reminiscent of (but isn’t limited to) Camus’s famous statement that the only important question worth considering is whether or not to kill oneself. In Middletown, however, the proclamation may be extended. It is not only worth considering whether or not to kill oneself, but whether or not to continue the human race at all, whether to continue the cycle.
Middletown is thematically huge, but the production sustains our attention completely through some superb performances, seamless transitions and an inventive use of space. Alice Darling’s direction is rhythmically precise, so as to render the movement almost musical. The set design (Emily Collett), a series of square frames that hold props or fold out to create distinct settings, is remarkable in its capacity to completely transform the small Red Stitch space. It also resonates thematically with some of the ideas in Eno’s text, concepts of putting things on display (as in a museum), the presentation of our scientific and technical discoveries and the persistence of our history. Finally, Chris Wenn’s atmospheric sound design facilitates some seriously affective (and effective) unease during the second act.
Ultimately, Middletown is a thought provoking work that disarms us with its comedy. It asks us to consider (and then re-consider) the relationship between our everyday lives against the wondrous randomness and complexity of our own existence. Although one could not help but question the use of American accents, as the content of the work and its dialogue resonates so much with our vernacular and thought. It would have been nice, as it were, to bring the work closer to come.