By ALAN SMASON
No. It’s not a latter-day Our Town. Nor is it Love Letters for couples. It is, however, somewhere in between.
Streaming sales for a filmed stage reading of Dan Clancy’s Middletown are ending today and with it the last chance to see Sandy Duncan (Peter Pan), Didi Conn (“Grease”), Donny Most (“Happy Days”) and Adrian Zmed (“T. J. Hooker”) portray two baby boomer couples who bond with one another despite their many differences over four decades as parents and spouses.
The actors are all on book, the stage is bare except for the four reading stands and the actors. There is no set and before the actors begin the reading, Duncan reminds us that what the purpose of the play is the memory of what we see in ourselves. We are admonished “to remember – to think again – about something that’s here.”
Produced by GFour productions, the production of the play played before a live audience just prior to the worldwide lockdown in February of 2020 in a small theater in Marietta, Georgia.
After a year of no audiences and the beginning of the planned reopening of theaters, it is refreshing to see a theater filled with happy people and to be able to share their collective laughter, despite the underlying appreciation that they were among the last such audiences prior to the shutdowns.
Peg Hogan (Sandy Duncan) and Dotty Abrams (Dodi Conn) become friends when their daughters share their first day at kindergarten. They somehow connect amid the combination of joy and angst at seeing their babies grow up and they begin a friendship that leads to an eventual husbands meeting. Tom Hogan (Adrian Zmed) is a sweet, devoted man with the heart of a poet, while Don Abrams (Donny Most) heads up a family-run auto parts store.
The two men connect in October of 1976 over the shared, terrifying experience of being soldiers in Viet Nam. They won’t discuss it, but that connection unites them as brothers in arms. The two couples begin to hold regular dinners at a local restaurant and enjoy joint New Year’s Eve celebrations.
While they share an attraction as parents of young one, Clancy points out their dissimilarities as well. Abrams in Jewish, while his wife considers herself Lutheran. It was the last church she was in, she explains. Hogan is an atheist, while his wife is a Catholic. Their political leanings are pretty much all over the map as well.
Yet their friendship endures decade after decade as their children grow up and, eventually they just have themselves.
The play, which runs about 90 minutes, was directed by Seth Greenleaf, who describes the simple staging as allowing the audience to “eavesdrop” on these conversations between the ladies, the couples and the men as they navigate their way through life.
The actors do very good work to take on the characters as imagined by the playwright. Without any reveals, the play echoes reality with issues such as infidelity and loss that take place over more than 40 years. While life deals them blows, they persevere and support one another as true friendship would dictate.
Even stripped down to its most essential elements, the universality of this play speaks volumes about friendship and love. While these characters only interact sporadically, we come to understand their inner strength, endurance, joy and sorrow. It is easy to appreciate Clancy’s directions to do away with all but one entrance and one exit and to concentrate on the characters rather than costumes and sets.
This staging was also seen in Las Vegas and Chicago prior to the shutdown. The streaming platform of Overture+, which presents the film, was created during the pandemic to answer the needs of how to safely enjoy theatre from the comfort of homes across the country.
Middletown by Dan Clancy (90 minutes) is lived streamed through the Overture+ platform and produced by GFour Productions. Tickets are $25 and are available here.