A heartfelt, sweetly quirky meditation on the meaning of life as told by the inhabitants of a small, American town, Will Eno’s “Middletown” opened at South Pasadena High School this weekend. Directed with a delicate hand by Nick Hoffa, the earnest cast of fifteen young actors leads you through town and inside the lives and minds of people living their lives and doing their best to get by. The tender, soulful music of Maria Taylor welcomes us and sets the tone throughout of the underlying heartbreak and human experience that connects us.
The stories unfold in vignettes and it is truly an ensemble piece but the beating heart of it belongs to a newcomer to town named Mary and the connection she develops with lifelong resident and all around handyman, John. The two meet cute at the local library and strike up a conversation that continues through various encounters from a park bench to her home, where he’s come to do some repairs, and then in a hospital where Mary has come to give birth. Her husband travels and is largely absent and Taylor Calva gives Mary a constant, underlying longing that pulls on your heart, especially in every scene she has with John. He is played with a jaunty, lighthearted humor by the exceedingly affable Cole Dickey. It becomes clear that John uses humor to mask his crushing loneliness and depression. Calva and Dickey are poignant together and have you rooting for them in every scene.
Surrounding the two protagonists are the townfolk that give Middletown a sense of time and place. Finn Gilchrist is the no nonsense cop who feels connected to the people on his beat that he mostly sees through their windows at night, remaining detatched yet sworn to protect. Gilchrist plays him with a sort of defeated hopelessness and anger that comes through in outbursts that he seems to regret. Sebastian Liebe gives out Spicoli-esque wisdom as the town mechanic and drunk. Liebe’s melancholy allows us to see the pain of his disappointment in himself – he says he sees himself as simply unlucky – and has a lovely moment where he remembers who he used to be. Audrey Omidi is the oddly optimistic librarian who weaves through everyone’s lives in town. Omidi gives her a philosophical whimsy grounded in kindness.
Alexa Morales has strong moments as the doctor treating her patients physically while sometimes piercing through to see their shared humanity. She connects authentically with the mechanic while talking to him as he rummages through the hospital garbage for discarded meds. Asha Quibilan is full of wonder as the astronaut, the town’s most famous resident. As they ponder life on earth at one point they exclaim, “how’d we get so lucky?” They are also touching as the guitarist strumming alone, seeming to work on a song that comes to completion with another character later on.
Each member of the ensemble plays a few roles with each having standout moments such as Charlotte Dekle and Audrey Ley as a tourist couple searching for something real, something more as they engage in quirky banter with their tour guide, Lauren Dubria. Also played by Dubria is the public speaker who opens the play and prepares us for what’s ahead by greeting every possible human archetype. Milla Sanchez-Regalado touches your heart as “Sweetheart”, an innocent young woman who seems to silently empathize with those around her. Sophia Swallow is sweet and heartbreaking as a young nurse and Bella Galan is caring and funny as another nurse/attendant helping Mary with her birth. Abby Greene is a charming, fast-talking albeit well meaning ob/gyn and Lu Deleon delivers some powerful lines that have dual meanings as Ground Control to our astronaut.
The production values are effective in their simplicity, from the actual trees to the lighting and screen images that evoke a chilly fall in any town where the leaves turn yellow and red. You can almost hear the crunching of the leaves and the sound of a gravel path.
“Middletown” is an achingly beautiful slice of life in this town, in our town, full of life’s mundane and most precious of moments – this production and these young actors breathe life into the words to illuminate what it is to be a human on this earth.
Middletown (directed by Nick Hoffa, with technical direction by James Jontz) continues with performances November 11 and 12 (Friday, Saturday) at 7:00PM and a Saturday matinee on November 12 at 2PM. Little Theater, South Pasadena High School, 1401 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, Calif. General admission is $15. Visit SouthPasDrama.com/middletown for info and tickets may be purchased online at sphsasb.org and at the door.
CONTENT ADVISORY: While Middletown has many laughs and moments of hope, it also covers mature subject matter, including suicide, depression, and substance abuse. The show is 13 plus and we suggest parental guidance for all young teens.