Tour guide: I haven't traveled, ever. I'll walk around town, is about it. I'll notice a building or something, "Hey, was that always here?" Main Street, Elm Street. I look at people and try to figure out their story. You can sort of guess the first and last facts, but for the rest I'm just kind of, "What's going on inside of you?, because I have no idea." I don't know. I grew up here. I thought this was the world.
Tourist: Of course you did. But, hey, let me get a quick picture of you being wrong.
In Will Eno's Middletown wry, mordant musings on life and death abound in the face of a vast and unknowable universe. The characters range from Mechanic to Librarian, Policeman to Handyman, Landscaper to future mother, and more.
Around them, the residents of Middletown live out their days, each thinking in his or her way: "there's people like me in the world, I think. You don't hear much from us because we usually don't say anything. But we're out here, trying to get a hold on the whole thing."
As Christophen Wallenberg wrote in the Boston Globe: "People in "Middletown" have a strange knack for articulating the secret fears and niggling anxieties, the hidden hopes and dashed dreams beneath the genial pleasantries of small-town life. Middletown is a meditation on birth and death and the lives burning bright in between."
Eno describes his impetus for the play: "We spend a lot of time thinking about the end and the beginning, in kind of self-aggrandizing ways. We talk about the miracle of birth and the mystery of death. But, by definition, all of our lives take place in the middle of those two sort of unknowable events, in this great and often unexamined middle... I wanted to write a play that put some thoughts and feelings in the air about the miracle and the mystery and that alluded to deep and unknown forces. But then really just have people going to the store and fixing the sink and going through the normal things of looking for love and getting up in the morning. Because that's how we live."
Eno, whom New York Times critic Charles Isherwood once famously described as "a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation," wrote Middletown in 2010. It had its premiere at the Vineyard Theatre in New York and won the inaugural Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play. In an interview with Christopher Wallenberg of the Boston Globe, Will Eno mentioned he owed an inspirational debt to Thorton Wilder's Our Town. Eno decided that instead of unnecessarily updating Wilder's play, he wanted to consciously explore and travel in a separate direction. Eno says, "I think Middletown tries to look at the accumulation and effect of the tiny moments that make up our lives - and how we are constantly vulnerable to these tiny moments, which may in fact change the angle of our entire life, or not."