From a reference to ancient philosophy (“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man” - Heraclitus), to wry wit--
TOUR GUIDE: Well, this [tour of Middletown] is in English, so people can enjoy it for years to come.
FEMALE TOURIST: What about when English dies?
TOUR GUIDE: Oh, I think English will be around for a pretty long time.
FEMALE TOURIST: I doubt the Romans thought Latin was going anywhere, either.
--through to a character craving identity theft, along with the joys of needless worry and, finality—in every sense of the word—”I’ve been afraid that shame would be the last thing I felt on Earth,” Will Eno has crafted a masterpiece of insights into human nature that will make you laugh, cry, reflect, remember, revere and examine the middling job we all have of being persons from first breath to last.
Better than that, it’s art that truly gives you a hug; art that pulls no punches (Cop’s brutality is particualry topical and ugly) and art that realizes just how empty and meaningless the phrase, “See you later” can be.
The acting is universally outstanding. Gray Powell puts on an emotional tour de force as the aptly named John Dodge, boldly predicting then living/dying the future without knowing it; playing Middletown newcomer, pregnant and presently alone Mary Swanson, Moya O’Connell’s wonderfully understated delivery expertly balances the comings and goings of those around her (John and Mary’s pivotal embrace was very nearly destroyed by a wailing cellphone which was eerily—and maddeningly—at one with the playwright’s own view of attending live theatre: “With phones ringing and people coughing, you’re just somehow aware of the humanness.”).
Benedict Campbell was readily believable as the beat cop while Librarian was given a fine turn amongst the stacks thanks to Tara Rosling’s considerable skills. And special mention must go to Peter Millard who rendered two of his three roles (Male Tourist, Freelancer) with comedic timing and tone that produced some of funniest moments seen/heard this season. Also struggling with the “middle” of life, Mechanic had a compelling advocate in Jeff Meadows who at times epitomized the walking dead only to find himself the literal clown of the show as the play hit its climax and coda in the small town hospital where the cycle of life manifested itself in many, many ways.
Director Meg Roe—blessed as she was with such a stellar cast—kept the very “busy” show moving steadily forward. Designer Camellia Koo’s ever-inventive sets contributed a great deal to the pacing as did Kevin Lamotte’s out-of-this-world lighting (most notable being the astronaut scene where Karl Ang—playing Greg—floated above the planet with the greatest of ease while providing important perspectives and pronouncements on Eno’s themes).
In a variety of ways, the Shaw Festival did save the best production of this season for last; do make tracks to Niagara-on-the-Lake and take a long look at ourselves. JWR