Everything you expect from a Hyde Park Theatre production and not what you expect at all
Reviewed by Adam Roberts, Fri., Sept. 28, 2012
MiddletownHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 479-7529
Through Oct. 20
Running Time: 2 hr., 30 min.
Of Middletown, playwright Will Eno has said, "I wanted to write something that was a statement about what life feels, to me, on earth." Sitting in Hyde Park Theatre on Saturday, it was easy to feel Eno's consciousness reverberating throughout this intimate performance space as his dialogue – coined "screwball lyricism" by The New York Times – was exchanged onstage.
Remember your high school's production of Our Town? OK, fast forward it to the present, throw in a heap of esotericism, a batch of quasi-existentialist ponderings, and loads of super-lingual characters, and voila! ... Middletown. It's definitely a "thinking show" in my book, but with numerous riotous moments, too – pretty much the pairing I've come to expect from Hyde Park Theatre and Artistic Director Ken Webster where programming is concerned. We meet several of Middletown's residents: the librarian, cop, and handyman, tour guide and astronaut, doctors, and a sometime mechanic. We hear their thoughts on life, death, and that great space between.
Eno invokes the questions we ask ourselves daily: "Where did the time go? Am I content? What will tomorrow bring?" There aren't necessarily a lot of novel queries here, but that's the beauty – and through the near-poetic voices of his characters, Eno is deft at waxing philosophical. Sure, this leads to some structural meandering and scenes that could have used some trimming at the author's hand. But the play feels at once simple and complex, and somehow this creates the buoyancy needed to keep its dramaturgy afloat.
Perhaps the production's most intriguing aspect is the scene-change music – a rather obscure element for such a distinction, but the rich metaphors to be excavated from Webster's musical picks could provide enough fodder for an article of their own, toying as they do with notions of temporality, setting, and consciousness. The suggestions and repetitions are truly inspired and provide another thread to support the script's occasionally brow-furrowing form. In a play throughout which it can be easy to think, "OK, we get it – it's about language," Webster smartly reminds us that language is not manifested solely through words but through other media, too. If you go, keep an ear out for those musical moments; they have much to contribute.
This show boasts one of the largest casts I've ever seen at Hyde Park, and everyone is solid. As is typical, the production team succeeds in bringing pretty impressive production values to such a small space. But not everything is predictably HPT here. Eno's take on life – and the way it is delivered in partnership with Webster and company – is exactly what you expect to see at Hyde Park, and also precisely what you don't. A delightful paradox indeed.