Valley presents a thought-stimulating exploration of the human condition, despite a befuddled second act.
By Asher Miles , Staff Writer
The Valley College theater department’s rendition of “Middletown” by Will Eno was an interesting display of artistic expression with an underwhelming follow through, leaving the audience with both a sense of excitement and disappointment.
The execution of director Matthew McCray’s rendition of Eno’s thought-provoking play was leaps and bounds superior to the previous fall production, “The Laramie Project.” However, by the second act, the show’s shortcomings caught up to the production faster than a bad case of stage fright. Although the straightforward stage design, intellectually stimulating plot, and standout performances initially captivated the audience, the production lost momentum due to the loose storyline, indirect character objectives and misaligned tonal shifts. By the final half hour, the show had lost the spark and was running on empty, leaving the audience expecting more.
This existential play is no easy feat to perform, though, and while there were certainly areas for improvements, the execution of “Middletown” was commendable.
“Middletown” is a poignant piece by Massachusetts native Will Eno that draws connections and inspiration from Thornton Wilder’s classic play “Our Town.” Both plays share a common theme of exploring the joys and sorrows of life. Eno’s play delves into the lives of ordinary people in a small American town, all of whom are brought together through witty and often surreal dialogue. Through the inspection of intricate existential themes, Eno’s play challenges the audience to contemplate the complexities of existence so that they may discover a better understanding of the value of life.
Two of the most intriguing performances from the ensemble were from Nevada Hardman and Sophie Haaland, who played the mechanic and the librarian, respectively.
While the play’s writing does not provide extensive details regarding the origins of the mechanic, Hardman artfully filled in the gaps with his physical portrayal and strong character objectives. His long-hair and sporadic movements poignantly informed the audience about everything they needed to know about the character’s struggles, vividly illustrating the character’s inner monologue.
Likewise, Haaland’s performance as the librarian was consistent, never succumbing to the play losing its steam. As the keeper of the knowledge and history of “Middletown,” the librarian acted as the glue that kept the town together, with precious detail. Haaland’s masterful handlement of the existential and sometimes surreal dialogue shined and created a juxtaposition between her and less attuned actors.
Together, these two characters provided thought-provoking explorations of the human condition, prompting audiences to consider themes of belonging, identity and the power of knowledge.
Ultimately, in the realm of storytelling, a strong start can often be overshadowed by a lackluster finish. Regrettably, this was the case for this production, as the existential themes gradually overtook the majority of the cast, leaving the intended meaning befuddled.
Despite the production's shortcomings, it is noteworthy to acknowledge the commendable efforts of the theater department, especially in light of the unforeseen weather concerns that resulted in the move of the set to the Monarch Hall. Monarch Hall proved to be a more effective venue for the play as compared to the courtyard of the Campus Center.
Looking ahead, it is exciting to anticipate a continued upward trajectory from the department, especially as standout actors continue to improve. We hope to see even more productions that exceed our expectations.