I like e-vites. They save the environment and give you access to the guest list. My commitment rests on the *YES* of others. If the confirmed guests look entertaining, the party has a guarantee to rock. BUT sometimes, no matter how promising the attendee list is, the party isn’t quite the anticipated soiree. Steppenwolf Theatre presents MIDDLETOWN. It’s a residential play. Who are the people in the neighborhood? Cop, librarian, handyman, guy in a wheelchair, tourists, doctors, orderlies, janitor, astronaut. A newcomer moves into the eclectic mix. She wants a baby so she goes to the library. This city of angles doesn’t quite make a block…buster. Despite the allure of Chicago’s finest: Tracy Letts, Martha Lavey, Ora Jones, Keith Kupferer and company, MIDDLETOWN isn’t a rave. READ ON OR LISTEN to Audio Podcast at ITUNES Chicago Theatre Reviews for Week of July 1st Narrated by Joshua Volkers
From lights up, it’s quiet. Crickets! Yes, there is that homey buggy sound. But I noticed something more. I hear stuff. The people behind me are repeating lines. Two cell phones ring (seriously, people, you should be denied entry and a phone). One woman loudly cackles at everything. I hear the guy to my right breathing. There is a weird, noiseless vibe that keeps me from staying in MIDDLETOWN. Some of the actors are also suppressed. Their monologues and banter are hard to hear. It’s like the opposite of being at a party where the music is so loud that I can’t understand the conversation. This time the barrier to comprehension is a lack of beat and awkward silence. Playwright Will Eno penned a quirky hometown brew. The small town farce introduces distinct persons uttering some odd philosophies. Individually, some of the cast, like Letts and Lavey, nail the absurdity with hilarious results. Other times, the unconventionality of the scene, like an onstage row of theatre goers, is a little funny, a lot bizarre and seemingly totally out of place. Eno’s premise is just completely whack! So, why not make it one big over-the-top ridiculous, hot mess? I think the dialogue has more zippy wit potential that wasn’t quite realized. (I’m sure the woman in seat K-14 would dispute me.) Under the direction of Les Waters, some of the humor gets lost in the silence. Waters draws attention to a focal point but leaves the others onstage unrealized. The kooky sequence of scenes trudges to an unsatisfying conclusion. MIDDLETOWN is less like “Our Town” and more like my hometown Elkhart. It has interesting folks stuck in a place going nowhere. Sure, there are amusing moments but I wouldn’t want to live there. So, I don’t! To my left and only wanting one word, Joshua Volkers describes it with “boring.”Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes includes an intermission At 1650 N. Halsted Written by Will EnoDirected by Les WatersTuesdays through Sundays at 7:30pmSaturdays and Sundays at 3pmThru August 14th Buy Tickets Production photography courtesy of Michael Brosilow.