by Lynn on November 20, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crow’s Nest, Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Will Eno

Directed by Meg Roe

Set and costumes by Camellia Koo

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Sound and music by Alessandro Juliani

Cast: Karl Ang

Kristopher Bowman

Fiona Byrne

Benedict Campbell

Claire Jullien

Corrine Koslo

Jeff Meadows

Peter Millard

Natasha Mumba

Moya O’Connell

Gray Powell

A remount of the exquisite 2017 Shaw Festival production of this play that glistens with humanity,  this time playing  at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto with almost the whole original cast.

The Story. We are in Middletown, middle-America. The town’s people are going about their daily business. Robert the cop is diligent in his efforts to ferret out any one who looks suspicious. That usually means the town drunk who gets Robert’s physical abuse which is usually excessive.

Mary and her husband have just moved to Middletown. Because he’s always away on business Mary has to move in herself. She meets John the local handyman at the library. The librarian is very helpful and cheerful to everybody. Tourists come to town and are curious about everything. An astronaut lives there. Life goes on and in one case it doesn’t. It’s sort of a day in the life of the town. (Sound familiar?)

The Production. The playing space of the Guloien Theatre at the Crow’s Nest is smaller than the Jackie Maxwell Studio where the production played originally at the Shaw Festival, so adjustments had to be made to the staging. The audience is still seated around the playing area.

The cast enters while the audience is filing in and they—the cast– are generally busy on all fours, white tubes of paint at the ready, as they fill in the town of Middletown on the floor. They work in unison filing in storefronts, boxes for houses, signs of locations and outlines of streets.

Often the cast would greet audience members they knew or welcomed those they didn’t as per the Shaw production.

When the play proper begins, a towns-person, the affable Claire Jullien, greets the audience citing every conceivable person, profession, job, race, creed etc. and anyone she left out. Robert the moody cop (a commanding Benedict Campbell) acts as the narrator of sorts, a kind of linking guide, but not obtrusively so.

The central couple are Mary (Moya O’Connell), the lady on her own while her travelling husband works and John (Gray Powell), the handyman, curious about so many things for the moment and mournful and uncertain about life and his place in the world. Moya O’Connell, as Mary, shimmers with anxious optimism, trying to convince herself that moving to a new town and having a baby (I guess her husband was home once) will work and perhaps solve her problems. Her smile is bright with effort. She’s trying hard to fit in, be optimistic and appear happy. It’s a performance that breaks your heart for all the right reasons. O’Connell also listens so keenly she makes us listen harder too. It’s a pity O’Connell won’t be at the Shaw Festival again for this year.

As John, Gray Powell is a mass of twitches, scratching, insecurity, non-sequiturs and disarming charm. He is a reliable handyman and can fix things that need it. It’s just that John is alone and lonely. He hangs on to Mary, hoping there might be a relationship there. He flits from idea to idea, new curiosity to new curiosity. It’s just that he can’t latch on to any thing or anyone to anchor him. There is such subtlety in Powell’s playing of John that it too is a heartbreaking performance.

Jeff Meadows plays the town drunk who is a bit of a mystery. Is he suffering from PTSD from being in the military? We aren’t really sure. He does have demons. He spends most of his time either trying to avoid Robert the cop and bedevilling the townspeople by lurking outside their windows, making odd sounds. Meadows has a lanky, subdued way about him, and an overwhelming sadness.

Corrine Koslo, as the librarian, is new to the production. She replaces Tara Rosling. Koslo is welcoming, cheerful to one and all at that library and helpful. She knows everybody, is non-judgmental, accommodating and very funny. Koslo is such a gifted actress. Pity she hasn’t been in the company for a few years, but am glad of her presence here.

The production is directed with breathtaking sensitivity and intelligence by Meg Roe. She has a vision of the play and how to bring it beautifully to an audience. In one scene John has to fix a clogged drain for Mary. A cabinet and sink formation is wheeled on. John gets down under the sink to attend to the pipe. This means that people on other sides of the playing area can’t see what he’s doing. So Meg Roe has Gray Powell as John turn the cabinet a quarter then go under the sink so that all sides of the theatre get a look. Brilliant.

Comment. The 20th century had Thornton Wilder’s Our Town to speak for it. It’s a play about a ‘day’ in the life of a small town in New Hampshire. All the people knew and cared about each other, even the town drunk. They went about their daily business with conviction, industriousness and purpose. People fell in love, married, had children, died and wished they could come back to earth for just one more day to see the people they loved.

Will Eno’s Middletown is a play for the 21st century. It has some people who care about others—the lovely librarian, a doctor who gives the town drunk some pills that will help his ‘head-ache;—but on the whole the tone is darker, more introspective, brooding. It’s applicable to the times we live in, with concerns we all experience.

The production is exquisite. Bravo to Chris Abraham, Crow’s Theatre’s Artistic Director, for working to bring this gift of a production to Toronto.

A Crow’s Theatre Production in partnership with the Shaw Festival.

Opened: Nov. 16, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 1, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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