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Middletown

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With an extended prologue that welcomes a vast cross section of humanity into Will Eno's more-than-slightly surreal tale of life in a small town, the story puzzles, delights, and annoys, sometimes all at once. It explores those basic issues of life, death, and love that always seem too elusive to understand but inspire dramatists to paint a word picture that will invoke introspection.

Middletown is populated by Cop, Mechanic, Librarian, Tour Guide, and the like, who interact with the main protagonists, Mary Swanson (Lola Kelly) and John Dodge (James McHale), as their stories play out over time. Mary has just moved to Middletown with her husband, who is strangely absent, and there is an immediate connection between John and Mary that persists in spite of the obvious impediments.

It is clear from the beginning as Cop says, "Middletown. Population: stable; elevation: same. The main street is called Main Street. Things are fairly predictable. People come, people go. Crying, by the way, in both directions," that this is not going to be predictable at all. Language is going to be the star of the show, and what transpires is intended to be elucidating and mystifying all at the same time. When newcomer Mary asks the Librarian for a library card, she replies, "Good for you, dear. I think a lot of people figure, 'Why bother? I'm just going to die, anyway.' Let me just find the form."

The humor and offbeat quirkiness of Eno's script saves the sometimes arty and slightly pretentious nature of philosophy uttered as normal conversation. The characters are meant to interpret life, even as they don't understand it themselves, which frequently leads to some rather bizarre exchanges and leaves the audience often scratching its collective head.

McHale is a standout as the befuddled, flawed, and ultimately tragic figure who can't quite navigate life successfully. Kelly makes a fine foil for his equivocations, projecting an innocence and normalcy in this offbeat hometown atmosphere.

Ned Liebl makes a fine Mechanic as he ponders his existence, often as a introspective drunk  In other roles, Ahmed T. Brooks, Robert Foran, Karen Webster, Karen O'Hanlon, and Marissa LeDoux acquit themselves well as they portray a passing parade of small town denizens.

Eno throws in a few odd moments that feel contrived for theatrical effect. A reference to the Indian history of the town brings an Indian to the second act in full regalia for a cameo. Space clad astronauts float by in a sea of swirling lights. Though this adds to the timeless sense of life in the cosmos, it is often jarring.

Bruce Goodrich's effective scenic honeycomb of cubes provides an opportunity for symbolism and utility on the Chance's smaller second stage. Megan MacLean's offbeat costumes encompassing  a undefined time period add to the general idiosyncratic nature of the show. Lighting by Karen D. Lawrence and sound by Ryan Brodkin also enhance the production.

Director Trevor Biship understands the unique quality of Eno's work, as evidenced by his ability to create believable characters even as they often come off as strange or cryptic. He creates a cohesive whole in an existential narrative.

This is a play that causes you to have to think as you are watching it and makes you wish for a remote that could freeze frame the action as you take a moment to ponder. It is ambitious and worthwhile for a theater company to tackle.

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.