Middletown by Dan Clancy, which was first staged shortly before the pandemic, has arrived at Miami’s Actor’s Playhouse, as part of a rotating-cast tour co-produced by GFour Productions. This unapologetically sentimental show takes you on “the ride of your life,” at least as its roller coaster tagline would have it. That ride, though, is less a thrill-packed shocker than a mostly-comforting coast through two couples’ relatively average middle class lives, which they happen to be living in Middletown, New Jersey.
Yet the sometimes middling, sometimes heart-breaking, and sometimes hilarious stuff of ordinary life is given new life in this play’s moving encapsulation. Entertainment value and relatability were clearly the goal here rather than originality or even much commentary, but on the former fronts it clearly succeeds.
To tell its tale, Middletown uses no scenery or stage tricks, besides some enlivening lighting changes, and in fact doesn’t even require the actors to have memorized their lines. Instead, they read from scripts set on four podiums, sometimes changing positions or breaking away to interact with each other or address the audience directly but never coming fully off-book.
Adrian Zmed and Didi Conn. Photo by Alberto Romeu
Quickly, though, the scripts and sparseness become barely noticeable amidst the play’s constant motion as it tears through something in the realm of four decades in around 90 minutes. On the way, it explores the trials and travails of parenthood and aging while hitting on speed bumps ranging from infidelity to life-altering diagnoses to, perhaps most affectingly, being personally touched by a nationwide tragedy.
But though Middletown crosses paths with plenty of loss, it also contains plenty of humor, with witty one-liners peppered throughout. Its central focus, though, is on neither grief nor comedy but in fact on friendship. After Dotty and Pam become instant BFFs in their daughters’ kindergarten schoolyard and later bring their respective husbands Don and Tom into the fold, a winning friendship forms between the foursome.
To the extent, then, that a show that touches on so much can be accurately described as being about any one thing, it is about how that one moment of crossed paths shaded everything that came after; how life’s inevitable losses were made more bearable and its victories made sweeter given close confidantes who can share in and support each other through both.
Photo by Alberto Romeu.