Review: ‘Middletown’ at Lumina Studio Theatre

Middletown is a series of vignettes powered by a strong ensemble

Middletown, which played at The Silver Spring Black Box Theater through April 17th was a glorious, energetic crowd pleaser. Directed by David Minton for Lumina Studio Theatre, Middletown is an homage to Anywhere, U.S.A. style plays like Our Town; the show was a series of vignettes involving interesting, interlaced characters—the ultimate ensemble piece.

L To R: Keegan Vernon-Clay and Ben Lickerman. Photo by Linda Parker.
L To R: Keegan Vernon-Clay and Ben Lickerman. Photo by Linda Parker.

Founded in 1995, Lumina Studio Theatre features the work of over 100 young actors per season. The young adult cast of Middletown created an eye-and-ear capturing evening of thought-inducing theater.

“Middletown, we’ve got you coming and going” was the tagline for the fictional Middletown, U.S.A., and could have well been the tagline for how the characters and their stories energetically crossed the stage, one after another.

The first vignette involved peculiar, pill-popping Mechanic Craig (the ever-energetic Dominic Massimino), who gets confronted rather rudely by lady Cop (Keegan Vernon-Clay) when he had been simply minding his own business on a park bench. The Cop became more sympathetic as the play progressed, making laments such as “Looking in people’s windows at night make you lonely.”

The two central characters in the show were Mary Swanson (the gifted Tolly Colby), young, married and pregnant, and John Dodge (the outstanding Ben Lickerman), an eccentric loner. He’s the type of man that can “Stare out a window and watch two years go by.” John is also a man who is afraid of being alone and “gets exercise from panic attacks.” Mary, on the other hand, is the definition of optimism. It’s clear that John wants togetherness with the spoken-for Mary.

Binta Coulibaly and Dominic Massimino. Photo by Linda Parker.
Binta Coulibaly and Dominic Massimino. Photo by Linda Parker.

John and Mary met during the funny and energetic Middletown Library scene. As the scene played out, the librarian (Binta Coulibaly) recounted the history of Middletown in an officious, but grin-inducing way.

Later, the Middletown Tour Guide (Heather DeMocker) had her hands full with husband and wife tourist team (Thomas Schoppert and Cindy Gilbert) as she showed them a Middletown monument.

There was a sublime scene that took place in outer space, on a NASA space station. Astronaut (James Sleigh) made a series of beautiful observations about Earth. Director Minton was wise to put Sleigh above the audience, house-right in a small room, to simulate the space station. It helped that the theater is a black box; the black walls served well for outer space.

Another scene that stood out was Schoppert as Landscaper, who was the lady Cop’s brother-in-law.  As the play went on, actual names of the archetypal characters came to light, as in a scene simmering with romantic tension between lady Cop, Roberta Hollingsworth and the Librarian, Judith.

The most hilarious scene in the play was when Mary visited her doctor about her baby. Sleigh returned as the character Male Doctor along with his wife, Nurse (Eva Parks). Sleigh frenetically ran down everything expectant mother Mary could expect, in rapid fire, humorous fashion. Later, Sylvie Weissman realistically evoked the empathetic Doctor who cares for the down on his luck John (who had landed in the hospital after trying to end himself) and dispenses feel-good pills to the Mechanic.

Set Designer Jim Porter built two miniature, wheeled house sets, with convincing exteriors and interiors. When rotated 180 degrees, the interiors became everything from a suburban kitchen, to a hospital room on the “inside.”

 James Sleigh, Sylvie Weissman, Heather DeMocker, Cindy Gilbert, and Thomas Schoppert. Photo by Linda Parker.
James Sleigh, Sylvie Weissman, Heather DeMocker, Cindy Gilbert, and Thomas Schoppert. Photo by Linda Parker.

Sound Engineer Ron Murphy effectively made police radio chatter and NASA “Mission Control” audio come to life. I liked Costumers Wendy Eck and Dianne Dumais’ police-woman, mechanic and astronaut uniforms.

Middletown proved thoroughly entertaining, and a well-earned standing ovation served as an exclamation point to a character-driven, theatrical gift.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Middletown played through April 17, 2016 at Lumina Studio Theatre at Silver Spring Black Box Theatre  8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. Their next performance will be The Tempest on April 29-30th, May 1st and May 6th and 8th. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 565-2281, or purchase them online.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I was riveted by everything about this play from the beginning welcoming monologue (completely captivating) to the last scene. Just superb performances. I wish I could watch it again. Alas! I saw the final performance.

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