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Middletown skims the surface

Dan Clancy’s four-person play about two couples living a middling life in a middle-class suburb, Middletown, is the kind of middlebrow play you go to when you don’t want your emotions stirred up or your assumptions about life challenged, and you don’t want to work very hard to figure out what it all means. It is 90 minutes worth of Kodak moments from the lives of Clancy’s characters—from first dates, first meetings, and first days of school, through sudden departures, final partings, last moments—all presented in series of reminiscences that skim along the surface of life, inspiring sweet smiles, lighthearted chuckles, and occasional glances at the watch to see how soon this all ends.

This production features three faded older-adult “name” TV stars—Sandy Duncan, Adrian Zmed, and Donny Most—and our own off-Loop-to-Broadway star, Kate Buddeke. None of them do badly. They can’t forget their lines; they read from notebooks, a la A.R Gurney’s Love Letters. And they put just enough acting into their performances to keep this from feeling like we are being read to before bedtime. Seth Greenleaf’s direction is subtle to the point of invisibility. If you want to be nice, you could call it seamless.

The play provides few moments of intense drama. The moments after one couple discovers their firstborn was killed on 9/11 comes close. And even that sorrow is muted by the fact that the actors stand behind a protective podium. And by the fact that we don’t ever really get to know these characters very well. When they pass on, as they must, as we all must, it is hard not to wonder: death, where is thy sting?  v

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