Like life in the Methow Valley — or virtually anywhere else in the past 18 months — life in Middletown, USA, can often seem surreal. That’s just one of the reasons why the Liberty Bell Drama Company (LBDC) selected “Middletown,” by playwright Will Eno, as its fall production.
Opening at The Merc Playhouse on Dec. 8, “Middletown” explores the universe of a small American town, a press release said. “As a friendship develops between longtime resident John Dodge and new arrival Mary Swanson, the lives of the inhabitants of Middletown intersect in strange and poignant ways in a journey that takes them from the local library to outer space and points between.”
“We try to stage plays that challenge our students and community in some ways,” said LBDC and drama teacher Kelly Grayum. “This play really speaks volumes about our modern life and certainly echoes some elements of our COVID experience, minus the masks.”
In addition to featuring 20 characters with five principal roles — a size well-suited for the LBDC’s team of 25 actors and support positions — “it has a lot of roles where students are involved in just one scene, much like the one-acts that we did in the past,” Grayum said. “It allows us to all be together on one project while accomplishing some of the same goals as the variety show [that the LBDC typically does in the fall]. We even added some live music to showcase some of our musical talent.”
The LBDC this year is comprised of students from Liberty Bell High School and the Independent Learning Center. Three of the principal roles are filled by the LBDC’s seniors: Alex Eslava, who plays John Dodge; Hazel Culpsmith, who plays Mary Swanson; and Sophia Newton, who plays “Librarian,” a source of knowledge about the workings of Middletown both past and present. The rest of the roles are filled by a combination of veteran and new LBDC members.
Co-director Danbert Nobacon, along with a group of five LBDC students, focuses on set, sound, and light design for the show. Nobacon also directs several scenes in the play. LBHS alumni Baylie Peplow mentored one student in developing promotional materials for the show. Both Nobacon’s and Peplow’s time is supported by Methow Arts’ Artist-in-Residence program.
Like any place
“Middletown is like any place and that is the point,” Grayum said. “The audience will get to consider Middletown as a place but also as an idea. Everything seems so familiar but also slightly fantastic. The characters in Middletown are all searching for something, but they don’t always know what it is or where to find it, even though it is often right in front of their face.”
As is often the case when life imitates art, “Middletown,” which opened in 2010, has strong thematic echoes in the world of COVID-19. The show deals with the “loneliness and isolation that often comes with modern life and will seem familiar to audiences who have experienced the last two years of pandemic,” Grayum said.
“The play is very funny but also achingly sad at times,” he said. “Audiences will leave feeling the full weight and beauty of being human.”
“Middletown” runs Dec. 8, 9, and 11 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes before show time. Tickets are $5/students and $15/adults. Masks required for audience members.