Real People People Inhabit “Middletown” at Third Rail Rep

It’s one of those mornings…I’d rather be at the theatre. Specifically, I’d rather be back at Winningstad Theatre, where last night I saw Third Rail Repertory’s stunning production of Middletown by Will Eno.

The play is about…well, it’s a bit hard to pin down. It’s about you and me and the person you saw standing on the street corner, and all of the other people around us — those we interact with, those we see only through windows, and those we never meet at all. It’s a little bit about birth (the “mystery at the beginning”) and a little bit about death (the “mystery at the end”), but mainly it’s about what happens in between. It’s about life on the largest and the smallest scales imaginable, and about how we communicate with others — occasionally successfully (against all odds), but more often wildly unsuccessfully. It’s about recognizing those moments of transcendence that happen sometimes just right in the middle of an ordinary day — when we see something in a new way or make a connection with someone else, or with ourselves.

At the talk back after the show, we learned that Will Eno’s goal was to write a play that contained both a birth and a death, but nothing much happened. I don’t think he succeeded — it’s true that there isn’t one specific moment you can point to as the thing that happened, but that’s because everything happened. As it does, all around us, all of the time (even during intermission).

Eno’s gift lies in his use of language, which he wields expertly to convey the things we say, the things we think but don’t say, and the things that come out weird because all we’re really doing is making noise with our mouths. His dialogue exposes us for what we are: “chatty mammals with different names in colorful clothing” whose sole contribution is often “Huh?!”

The piece is beautifully staged and acted. Each character is the perfect balance between someone we can relate to and a complete stranger. I have more than a small crush on Ben Newman, Middletown’s resident philosopher-alcoholic, and Maureen Porter (who stole my heart in last season’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane) in the role of Middletown newcomer Mary Swanson (not Swenson).

Third Rail is a local professional repertory theatre that consistently puts on productions of the highest quality. This show is no exception. So, family, friends, acquaintances, people I don’t know, breathers — go see it.

Third Rail Rep’s Middletown runs Thursdays to Sundays through October 19.

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