Will Eno is not the easiest writer to access and understand with his lyrical use of language and words that dance and dangle and quirky characters. The young performers at Lumina Studio Theatre dig into the souls of Middletown’s eccentric inhabitants and relay how we connect to and disconnect from each other in touching and powerful segments. As in other Lumina productions the young actors perform far beyond their teen years.
Eva Parks functions as the narrator while sweeping the floor as a janitor on the cleaning crew. Her monologue about the town is filled with scattershot phrases and opposing images like gravity and relativity, reflecting the duality and multi-dimensional aspects of life. Parks plays with the sounds of the words with a gleeful look in her eyes as the phrasing jingles in her head while sharing with us. Already, director David Minton has ushered us into a different world populated by characters all trying to find their way and make sense of what’s around them, vulnerable yet persevering, even in outer space.
In the series of vignettes Tolly Colby portrays Mrs. Mary Swanson with a peaceful charm. She patiently accepts the befuddled observations of new plumber friend John Dodge (two letters away from being John Doe), wonderfully played by Ben Lickerman, whose long sad eyes tenderly relate his foreboding sense of dread tinged with fleeting hope. Keegan Vernon-Clay as the Cop shares zany life-lessons while on the beat. Binta Coulibaly as the Librarian, and Dominic Massimino as the Mechanic both bring vitality and uniqueness to their character portrayals.
Sprinkled with periodic Our Town sensibilities, Middletown, too, could be Anyplace USA. As in Wilder’s epic piece, Eno’s characters deal with mundane issues on the surface that prove to be profound underneath. What still boggles my mind is that this cast of young people is able to capture and relay the nuances of the strange characters with just the right nuance and pacing, deliver pauses and sometimes blank stares like or better than the pros. That depth of training comes in handy with a play that starts the second act with a disconnected group of theater goers—facing the audience— commenting on what they just saw, absurdist style with super-weird reactions hysterically rendered by the performers, a side-bar snapshot of… well, us.
Set designer Jim Porter worked wonders flanking the stage with balanced cut out house fronts complete with doors and open windows enabling us to watch characters pacing inside. The house fronts swiveled around revealing entirely new sets, beautifully lit by Eve Vawter. The physical stage is not a limit for this bunch as seen when an astronaut peers down from a blue-lit door built in the balcony describing the wonders of the planet while on a NASA space walk, offering his own life reflections.
While it’s a lot of layers for young performers to handle and digest, the efforts reflect the company’s mission – to “provide a disciplined and rigorous professional setting where actors are trained in a comprehensive performance focused program of theater arts …The techniques of Stella Adler and Michael Chehkov are also demonstrated and put into practice.” This spectacular training comes through on and beyond the stage.
The troop with several who have developed together over the years, functions like a well oiled and seasoned ensemble. What Minton and nurturing staff can do exploring sophisticated concepts with young actors must be seen to be appreciated. I plan to secure a ringside seat to bid farewell to the cadre of young actors graduating this year, while welcoming the next batch in an upcoming production of a contemporary The Temp(est), adapted by Minton. This farewell to graduating seniors will be particularly poignant for a bunch that he has noted as being among the most talented on his watch.
If you haven’t experienced the outstanding showmanship and commitment of volunteers and the Lumina community, this is one to catch. Reminder, this group has a following and can pack a house. Get your tickets early and see why. http://www.luminastudio.org/
Cast: Tolly Colby; Ben Lickerman; Eva Parks, Keegan Vernon-Clay, Dominic Massimino, Binta Coulibaly, Heather DeMocker, Cindy Gilbert, Sylvie Weissman, James Sleigh, Thomas Schoppert
Artistic and Executive Director—David Minton, also Director; Costumers—Wendy Eck and Dianne Dumais; Set Design and Build—Jim Porter; Sound Engineer– Ron Murphy; Lighting Design—Eve Vawter; Production Manager—Julie Reiner
Running Time – Two Hours, with one 15 minute intermission