Middletown Review – Steppenwolf Theatre 2010/2011 Season’s Conclusion

Steppenwolf Theatre Company concludes its 2010/11 season with Middletown by Will Eno, directed by Les Waters, playing June 16 – August 14, 2011 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.   The production features ensemble members Alana Arenas, Tim Hopper, Ora Jones, Martha Lavey and Tracy Letts with Brenda Barrie, Molly Glynn, Keith Kupferer, Danny McCarthy and Michael Patrick Thornton.  This season that began with the premiere of Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, has explored the theme of public/private self.  This is the fifth story examining the ways public and private aspects of our lives unfold in an increasingly complex world.

This is the story of Middletown, a small town, and possibly one of the 16 towns in the country with that name.  It is all of our stories since all of us our “in the middle” of our individual journeys.  It is a place suspended in time and space.

We are introduced to the community of Middletown as Mary Swanson (Brenda Barrie) , a newcomer, interacts with the townspeople.  She befriends resident John Dodge (Tracy Letts), and quickly discovers that below Middletown’s flinchingly honest and seemingly idilic exterior lies something much more complex. Middletown is a wry, human portrait of a town with two lives, one ordinary and visible, the other epic and mysterious.

Tourists (Tim Hopper and Molly Glynn)

The sets and staging were remarkable.  It was interesting to contrast this set with two houses set apart conveying the space of a small town and also a sense of distancing with the set of Detroit with two houses in a large city in very close proximity and neighbors whose lives played out very differently.

The "audience". Alana Arenas & Ora Jones with Keith Kupferer & Molly Glynn and ensemble member Tim Hopper

The humor in this play is deceptive and brings us deeply into the lives of its characters.  In a nine-month span we see the town from many perspectives, it’s ancient history, it’s appearance from space, from the point of view of tourists,  while its characters search for connection and an understanding of who and where they are.  We see life and death, and that the force of life prevails.   Our own sense of “being in the middle” of our own lives may be heightened as we leave.

The use of language is also remarkable and compelling and was especially noteworthy in the wonderful opening monologue by Tim Hopper.  The superb acting made each character sympathetic and poignant.

The doctor (Tim Hopper) examining Mary Swanson (Brenda Barrie)

The production team for Middletown includes: Antje Ellermann (scenic design), Janice Pytel (costume design), Matt Frey (lighting design) and Richard Woodbury (sound design).  Additional credits include: Erica Daniels (casting), Laura D. Glenn (stage manager) and Michelle Medvin (assistant stage manager).

Will Eno’s frequently produced play THOM PAIN (based on nothing) was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  His other works include The Flu Season, TRAGEDY: a tragedy and OH, THE HUMANITY and other exclamations. Les Waters serves as Associate Artistic Director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre.  He returns to Steppenwolf, having previously directed The Designated Mourner and The Memory of Water.  This production of Middletown is one you will not want to miss and do plan to remain for the post-show discussion.

Mary Swanson (Brenda Barrie) and Mechanic (Michael Patrick Thornton)

Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre
1650 N. Halsted St.
Online ticketing available at: www.steppenwolf.org.

June 28– August 14, 2011, Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 pm
(See Chicago Splash Magazine calendar)
Ticket prices: $20-$73

20 for $20: Twenty $20 tickets are available at Audience Services beginning at 11 am on the day of each performance (1 pm for Sunday performances).

Rush Tickets: Half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show.  Student Discounts: $15 student tickets are available online using promo code: “TOWN15” (Limit 2 tickets.  Must present a valid student ID for each ticket). For additional student discounts, visit www.steppenwolf.org/students.

Accessible Performances:
Open captioned performance: Sunday, August 14 at 3 pm
terpreted performance: Sunday, July 24 at 7:30 pm
Audio-described performance: Thursday, July 14 at 7:30 pm
Audio-described performance with touch tour: Sunday, August 7 1:30 pm touch tour/3 pm curtain

Wine Tasting: Wednesday, July 6 at 6 pm in the Balcony Lobby.

Join us for hilarious, true stories, inspired by Middletown from 2nd Story storytellers with DJ White Russian, delicious wine, food and a ticket to the performance. Tickets cost $55 and are available by contacting Audience Services at (312) 335-1650 (use code 7453).

Free post-show discussions, sponsored by AT&T, are offered after every performance.

 Photos: Michael Brosilow

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