There is no reason in the world why Will Eno’s play “Middletown” should work.
It is, after all, about the small, often mundane, moments in the lives of the citizens of a town called Middletown.
But The Rogue Theatre’s production of the play makes it clear that there is a profundity in those moments.
The Christopher Johnson-directed “Middletown” quivers with the joy of discovering a good book, the loneliness that can consume, the hope and despair that define a life.
Eno’s language is lyrical, his humor wicked, and he has a deep appreciation of the prosaic — and is able to make audiences appreciate it, too.
The play is a series of vignettes, taking us from person to person, just laying out everyday life. Often, characters address the audience, and there’s even a scene where the actors play audience members, discussing the meaning of the play. That sounds a lot more pretentious than it is.
Clearly Eno has drawn inspiration from “Our Town,” but this is no Thornton Wilder rip off.
Most of the cast of eight played multiple roles, and here’s the astonishing thing: to a person, there was distinction and a rootedness in each character portrayed.
This is the best work we’ve seen David Greenwood do. He brought a tender depth to his doctor, a comical inquisitiveness to his tourist, and his opening monologue was a complete hoot. Kathryn Kellner Brown’s ditzy librarian with an unabashed love of books was a delight; her tourist demanding something out of the ordinary was laced with insight.
Also playing multiple characters were Bryn Booth, Hunter Hnat and Leah Taylor. Each of them slid into the different roles with ease and a sharp sensitivity.
Aaron Shand nailed the cop who looks over the town, sometimes with a mean streak, other times with gentle caring.
Holly Griffith and Ryan Parker Knox are the only characters Eno has given names. Mrs. Swanson is new to Middletown, longing for a child and deeply lonely thanks to a husband whose job takes him away from home much of the time. Griffith filled her with hope and made us feel each pain, each fear and each joy.
Knox’s John Dodge is an out-of-work handyman who is befuddled about this life he’s in. He is as lonely as Mary, and when they become friends, you can feel the power that comes with connecting with another human. Knox owned the role.
The only drawback to this play is the playwright’s fault: Eno wrapped it up with a cliché.
But Johnson imbued “Middletown” with rhythm and clarity and with enough air to let Eno’s words breath. As a result, this production captivated us with the mundanity of everyday life.