The U of M’s Black Hole Theatre Company (BHTC) is currently performing Middletown, a drama written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Will Eno. The play – which premiered on Jan. 26 and ran until Jan. 30, and will run again from Feb. 2 – 6 – is the inaugural performance of BHTC at the new theatre in the redesigned Tache Hall.
Eno is a renowned American playwright whose works include Thom Pain, The Open House, and Title and Deed. Charles Isherwood described him in the New York Times as “the Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.”
Eno’s works impressed U of M film studies professor George Toles so much so that he sought the rights to have one of Eno’s plays performed at the university and directed it himself.
“I am always on the lookout for a great contemporary play […] or a new playwright whose work is challenging in a manner that I have not already encountered,” Toles told the Manitoban.
“I read a summary online of Middletown and it immediately intrigued me, because it seems to have so much conscious allusion to Thornton Wilder’s American play Our Town […] so I got hold of the play and thought it was beautifully written, demanding […] and if done properly [the performance] could be both hilarious and heartbreaking, which for me is the ideal combination.”
Like Our Town, Middletown is a fictional satire set in a small town whose inhabitants have become too familiar with its stagnant and pedestrian nature.
Toles believes Middletown is a humorous and contemporary reworking of Wilder’s classic, and that Winnipeggers can easily relate to its characters and setting.
“Our opening night confirmed that this play has very wide doors. Audiences of almost any kind can find – rather quickly and readily – an orientation and identification point,” said Toles.
“All of the characters are trying to say as best as they can what their dilemma is as human beings, but doing so in a way that is not just recognizable, but also funny and sharp, and sometimes painful. Anyone that watches this can say ‘that is something I know about or something I think about.’”
As the play’s director, Toles had to push himself as well as his cast and crew to connect with the plot, characters, and setting while fostering faith in the abilities of one another.
“It is so important with casting to get students or anyone playing a role to feel trust. Trust with fellow actors, with the director, and with themselves. They have to feel their collaboration is vital to their success,” said Toles.
Existentialism is a common theme in Eno’s plays. Middletown is no exception, as Toles confirms. Toles says the play attempts to balance and answer several questions about life, birth, and existences while simultaneously affirming the beauty of being alive.
Toles is excited to have a work with such complex themes be the first production at the Tache theatre. The theatre opened for business with the debut performance of the play, and Toles says the new space is everything he hoped it would be.
“The theatre is exceptionally beautiful, and any student who feels there is not much to look at or do on campus should give that theatre a look – not just as a spectator, but to consider getting involved in theatre,” said Toles.
Prior to Tache Hall, the BHTC performed out of a small theatre space on the first floor of University College for years.
“I have been [at the old theatre] since 1976 […] I will always have an attachment to it but I am very ready to move to another place,” said Toles.
“Expect to be surprised, delighted, and moved. First you think the comedy would carry the day, but then it will go into deeper places. By the time you are finished, you will feel like you’ve had a seven-course life meal.”
Middletown is currently playing at the Tache theatre, located on the 300 level of Tache Hall (162 Dafoe Road). The show starts at 7 p.m. on Feb. 2 and at 8 p.m. on Jan. 27-30 and Feb. 3-6.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students/seniors, and can be purchased at the door or in advance. For reservations and group discounts, contact the theatre’s box office at 204-474-6880.
Correction 2: We have recently been informed that the name Conklin Theatre has not yet been officially approved. All instances of “Conklin Theatre” have been changed back to refer to the venue once again as Tache theatre. We apologize for the confusion.