Even in Middletown, where ordinary residents craft static lives, you will find interesting characters paired with an intriguing story. Will Eno, who wrote the play currently in production at Manbites Dog Theater, exhibits the ability to transpose the lives of ordinary folk into a meaningful plotline. In a town with very little to do, Middletown residents have a lot of time to contemplate life and the cosmos: big dreams and aspirations are juxtaposed with sometimes harsh and sometimes subtle realities.

The play focuses on the developing relationship between neighbors Mary Swanson (Madeline Lambert) and John Dodge (Thaddaeus Edwards). Both characters are compelling to watch and their conversations stay engaging as they find some comfort in each other’s presence. Their neighboring houses lie upstage and the audience can peer into their lonely lifestyles through the windows. Winding through the main storyline, a series of vignettes showcase other residents’ encounters, giving the audience a deeper understanding of Middletown life through reflection, connection and irony.

Directed by Jeff Storer, Duke Theater Studies professor and artistic director of Manbites Dog, Middletown has an interactive style as the characters break the fourth wall and come alive in the audience right before intermission. The librarian (Duke Dance Professor Barbara Dickinson) and the local drunk Greg (Chris Burner) provide comic relief in their stories and interactions. Greg often harps on his childhood, delivering one of the many heart-wrenching lines in the play, “I was someone’s golden child.” Just like the rest of the residents, Greg looks back on his youth and wonders if he could have done something differently to affect his future.

The conversations heard in Middletown may ring a familiar bell. The townies explore the issues we are often too embarrassed to voice aloud, addressing questions about the purpose of life and what it would be like to die. Middletown stresses that no matter who we are or where we live, our lives are more interconnected than we may think. Its dynamic characters seem to ask one all-encompassing question: aren’t we all trying to find clarity in this complex world we live in? As the play suggests, we all experience the same road in the beginning and in the end, though each of us goes down different paths somewhere in between.

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