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Love, Loneliness and Loss Take Center Stage: Middletown Meets Middlebury

Courtesy of Alex Draper

Courtesy of Alex Draper

Last weekend, the Middlebury College Department of Theatre presented Middletown, a play written byWill Ano and directed by Alex Draper ’88. The play centers on a generic small town and the interlocking lives of its inhabitants. Each character considers what it means to be happy in the world and understand their relation to the people and places around them.

Main characters Mary Swanson and John Dodge bond over their similar loneliness. The characters remark about their lives, what makes them anxious in the middle of the night and what they think of their futures. Through their relationship the audience can see what life in Middletown is truly like and what goes on behind closed doors.

A wide array of supporting characters add to the story of these two characters, such as a police officer, played by Connor Wright ’18, who opens the show with a horrible example of police brutality and an upbeat librarian, played by Shannon Gibbs ’18, who is simultaneously wise and unaware. Additionally, a character listed as The Mechanic speaks with many characters throughout the play and acts as the perceptive outsider in every moment he appears. 

“It’s intended to provoke thought about life, death,” said cast member Stephanie Miller ’20 when asked about the play’s message. “[It’s meant] to make people think about their own lives… their perspectives and the cycles of everything.”

Life and death certainly rest at the center of the play as John Dodge attempts suicide on the same day that Mary Swanson goes into labor with her first child. The other characters of the play serve to display the moments between those two large life events and the various trials and tribulations that a person can experience during that time.

The fact that Middletown was founded on land originally inhabited by Native Americans also provides a significant foundation to the play. Various characters mention this fact and brush it off nonchalantly, but it calls the audience to see the faults in these characters’ thinking. The company note mentions that, “since many such communities have been wiped off of maps and out of history books, and since little is taught on the reality of the Native American, we wanted to make sure we were respectful in the way we approached the material relating to the history and culture of the original inhabitants of our community here at Middlebury.”

Towards the end of the play, The Mechanic wears traditional Native American clothing and performs a dance. In preparation for this part of the play, the company worked with Dancing Earth Creations, a dance group that aims to “support Indigenous dance and related arts.” Additionally, the cast, “had the privilege of working with Chief Don Stevens, of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe, who shared his knowledge and experience, and granted [them] permission to be on the land of his ancestors.”

Costume designer Iram Asghar ’18 worked on this play for her 700 credit. She conducted research in the town of Middlebury by interviewing and photographing townspeople in order to ensure that her designs “came from a real place rather than one of stereotypes and assumptions.”

Asghar noted that her work for this play “necessitated navigating cultural appropriation and bridging the diverse backgrounds of the actors with the history and cultures represented in the play.”

In the costume designer’s note, Asghar details how Chief Don Stevens and Teresa Le Maitre helped her “understand their culture.” Additionally, she thanked them for creating traditional jewelry for the performances.

Middletown represents the multi-faceted nature of many American towns. In viewing the relation that the characters have to their history and each other, members of the Middlebury community were encouraged to think about their surroundings and how they interact with their neighbors.

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