People are born, People die: A Review of CCM Acting“™s production of ‘Middletown’

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Middletown: CCM

The title of this article is taken from lines from Will Eno“™s play Middletown and echo the main theme of the play, which director Richard Hess describes as being about “œlife and death“”and everything in between.“  Loosely based on Thorton Wilder“™s Our Town, Middletown tells the story of Mary Swanson (Sydney Ashe) who moves to Middletown ahead of her husband.  While going to the local library to get some information about her new town, she meets John Dodge (Rupert Spraul), an unemployed man who spends his time learning about various subjects, such as gravity.

The remainder of the play focuses on the journey that these two people take as they deal with issues of life and death.  Mary Swanson deals with the birth of her child and John Dodge deals with a life-threatening illness.  Along the way, we get little glimpses of life in Middletown, from tourists taking a walking tour of the town, a cop (Isaac Hickox-Young) being philosophical on his police walkie talkie, to a librarian (Mafer Del Real) dealing with a drunken Mechanic (Andrew Huyler Ramsey) in her library.

Director Richard Hess takes this rambling, word-mad play and skillfully guides his actors through the various scenes. To echo the variety of locations, the set itself was broken up into different sectors which easily become a library interior, hospital interior and exterior, and other places in Middletown.  Capitalizing on the ensemble nature of the piece, Hess makes certain his actors work together as a unit, making for a tight production.

Sydney Ashe plays the lead roles of Mary Swanson with a nice blend of earnestness and fun naiveté that works well for his role and is counterbalanced by the equally nice blend of flippancy and despair shown by Rupert Spraul as John Dodge. They work off each other effectively to move forward the scenes that they are in.  Ashe gets some great laugh lines from Dodge“™s character and Dodge gets some big laughs from his self-deprecating humor.

Kudos also go out to Andrew Huyler Ramsey as The Mechanic and Nicholas Heffelfinger as The Astronaut Greg and other roles. Ramsey“™s character is basically drunk during most of his scenes and he gives a strong sculpted performance in those scenes, alternating between different states of inebriation.

Similarly, Nicholas Heffelfinger provides some strong performances playing a variety of different roles.  He was strong as one of the tourists going on a walking tour of Middletown. However, he did a great job as Astronaut Greg because of the physicality of that part; Astronaut Greg is in space talking to ground control and appears to be floating in space during that scene.  It was hard to tell whether he was on a wire, but he did a great job floating above a chair ten feet up from the floor of the stage.

In short, Middletown is a different view of issues of life and death from one of the more original voices in theatre today.  It runs from October 20-22, 2016 in the CCM Cohen Family Studio Theatre. Any fan of Thom Paine (based on nothing) or The Realistic Joneses should see this show.

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