‘Middletown’ – A look at life through a clichéd lens

Sandy Duncan (right) and Adrian Zmed in “Middletown.”

If you are looking for middlebrow entertainment geared toward a mature middle class (mostly white) audience, “Middletown” at the Apollo Theater may be just the ticket.

Dan Clancy's 90-minute piece follows the friendship of two couples for 33 years, from the time the wives meet dropping off their daughters at kindergarten through the deaths of all but one of the four. Getting together for dinner at a restaurant every Friday night, they share all the expected ups and downs of marriage and family including a husband's infidelity, a gay son, the loss of a child, the pains of aging, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease.

Not to be confused with Will Eno's play of the same title, Clancy's work relies on two gimmicks. The actors work without much of a set or costumes, simply reading from scripts on music stands lined up in a row. And for the most part, they're stars whose names will be recognizable to the target audience.

Leading the quartet, all of whom come out to greet us at the start, is Sandy Duncan (probably best known as “Peter Pan”) as petite and proper Peg, who is rather reserved and tends to play by the rules. Her hard-working, well-educated husband, Tom (Adrian Zmed from TV's “T.J. Hooker), likes to write poetry in secret. His opposite is Don (Donny Most, Ralph Malph in “Happy Days”) who prefers sports and has a successful pool business. Joining them is local actor Kate Buddeke as Don's spouse, Dotty, the live-wire loud mouth who might be described as a “card” by those in her age group.

These are meant to be ordinary people like us or those in our everyday lives. Both men are Vietnam War vets and find they have more in common than that. The wives bond over any number of things, among them how to deal with their husbands and children. Directed by Seth Greenleaf, the actors ably discharge Clancy's intention, as stated in a press release, “to tell a relatable 'every-person's' story in a direct and straightforward manner where human emotions are front and center....(and let) the words speak for themselves.”

And there's the rub. Some mildly funny jokes and emotional button-pushing notwithstanding, Clancy's script isn't all that interesting. The characters' lives and interactions are a predictable series of clichés, and it's hard to care much about any of them.

My theater-going companion, who is much younger than the target audience, made a canny observation as we were leaving the theater. He liked “Middletown” but wondered why people would want to see themselves on stage. Wouldn't they rather learn something new and different?

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