Middletown by Will Eno: an analysis for production

Originally published in Facebook Notes August 11, 2014 at 6:37pm. Edited for publishing below:

Middletown is a thoughtful, surrealistic, Zen-like Our Town look at loneliness and longing in the midst of the homogenous small towns and villages dotting the American map which uses beautiful, but simple language spoken by archetypal characters whose corollaries I could easily list from own acquaintances in “MidWest HamletVillageTown, USA:”

“Middletown. Population: stable. Elevation: same. The main street is called Main Street. The side streets are named after trees. Things are fairly predictable. People come, people go.  Crying, by the way, in both directions (p.13).”

The existential thoughts of otherwise faceless residents and tourists magically bleed into the territory of the typical “How are you? Fine. Good. Nice day. Might rain. Bye,” conversations that masquerade as connecting with our fellow man:

“I read articles about identity theft and I actually get a little jealous, you know. “Just take it,” you know. “Good luck, fella (p.29).”

The play has marvelous provenance. Will Eno, the playwright was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Thom Pain (based on nothing). He is a Helen Merrill Playwriting Fellow, an Edward F. Albee Foundation Fellow and has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. His play The Open House was the 2014 Obie Award for Playwriting and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play. Charles Isherwood, theatre critic for The New York Times, called Eno “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation (2/ 2/2005).”  Middletown earned the prestigious Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play (2010). It has had successful productions in NYC (Vineyard Theatre 11/2010) and Chicago (Steppenwolf, 6/2011), and subsequently at Dobama Theatre of Cleveland Heights, OH, Actors’ Shakespeare Project of Boston, MA, and Northwestern University:


“Middletown” glimmers from start to finish with tart, funny, gorgeous little comments on big things.” Charles Isherwood, New York Times,

“…beautiful and deeply moving.” Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune– Recommended

“…Eno’s characters ponder life’s mysteries while the universe bursts around them.”  Mary Houlihan, Chicago Sun Times – Recommended

“…a funny and haunting play that should spark debate and reflection among its audiences for some time after viewing it.” John Olson, Talkin Broadway –  Recommended

“…Middletown is humorously pragmatic and splendidly surreal. It is a singular feast of thought and imagination.” Venus Zarris, Chicago Stage Review – Highly Recommended

“…a provocative and insightful look into the angst of universal loneliness” Tom Williams, ChicagoCritic – Recommended

Production requirements are reasonable. The cast at minimum but flexible, with double-casting is 9: 5w/4m. No characters are race-specific. There are no dialects. There are multiple settings, but only suggestions are necessary. Costumes are contemporary with some uniforms (doctors, orderlies, police officer, mechanic). Running time is 2 hours.

For my list, there are other outstanding positive considerations. The show is NOT necessarily set in the Northeast. The playwright is an American who writes with a distinctly American dialect and cultural identity. The play’s characters demonstrate life circumstances that are identifiable and sympathetic to our core audience. The humor is cerebral, witty, and ironic and not physical or overt.

There are some caveats. Middletown and Will Eno are an unrecognizable title and playwright to our core audience. There is occasional strong language: 2 fuck, 1 shit, not even a “damn” otherwise. Humor is cerebral, witty, and ironic. Yes, I know I repeated that. Spoiler: topics include (minimally) an act of violence in first 15 minutes and suicide



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