Review: Middletown at UCSB’s Performing Arts Theater

UCSB Theater Presented a New Play by Will Eno on November 15

Splendid plays get written and talented artists produce and act in them, but whole generations sometimes go by before anything genuinely new or fundamentally different comes around. With the arrival of playwright Will Eno, whose Middletown gets a sharp and resonant production here as directed by Thomas Whitaker, it seems that the long wait is finally over. It’s as though Samuel Beckett’s stagecraft were deployed to channel the powerful main current of the American imagination that began with Whitman and Emerson and then continued to flow through the Beats and beyond. Although there are sure to be skeptics who find his work too clever because it contains jokes, or inconsequential because it abandons conventional closure, Eno has already gathered enough momentum to be considered America’s next major playwright.

Middletown takes as its premise the same idea that animated Thornton Wilder’s Our Town decades ago, that looking at a single village could explain the universe. Quinlan Fitzgerald is outstanding as Mary Swanson, the pregnant woman whose arrival in Middletown sets the play in motion. And Ian Elliott is equally good as John Dodge, the hapless local who becomes her principal point of contact. Rigo Sanchez, Blythe Foster, Jore Aaron-Broughton, and Dillon Francis also play key roles in this microcosm of in-betweenness, a synecdoche that reflects Eno’s powerful sense of the ultimate unknowability of our origins and our ends

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