The newest play at APU takes a look at life in all its complexities

From Oct. 3-12, the Azusa Pacific Theater Department is presenting Middletown, an engaging play about an ordinary town in the U.S. Although the play has few characters, the ones it does have are portrayed deeply and the audience grows closer to them over the course of the show.

The APU cast does a wonderful job of showing the emotion and worldview of each character in the play. The stage is set with three translucent screens that have pictures or film projected onto them throughout the play, giving a double view of the actors in the middle of them.

These screens give the play an air of reality, making it feel as though the characters’ lives carry on after the show has ended. This is an interesting touch and allows different media elements to be incorporated into the times when the actors are on stage and as transitions when they are not. 

The play’s main focus is the townsfolk’s lives, or more specifically, the middle of their lives. The audience witnesses a large range of characters, some who are anxious, delinquent, rigid, perky, and just ordinary. There is a character for everyone to relate to at all stages of life. The show puts an emphasis on the times of people’s lives, including birth, midlife and death.

Students Claire Young and Justin Callisch do a remarkable job as the main characters: Mrs. Mary Swanson and John Dodge. Their personalities and mannerisms are beautifully contrasted as someone who is just living life with a relatively optimistic view and one who struggles deeply with mental health and life goals.

From the start, it’s easy to see that the character John Dodge has a difficult time speaking and relating to others but makes a significant effort with Mrs. Swanson because he likes her. Mrs. Swanson is an interesting newcomer to Middletown. They even have a few awkward, almost romantic scenes, despite Mrs. Swanson being married. This injects a lot of humor into the play and is quite enjoyable for the audience as relief from much of the heavier topics discussed in the dialogue. 

The play acts as a surreal commentary on real life, focusing in on the little things that many people do and think everyday but do not really notice right away. The actors are able to depict ordinary situations while still emphasizing the importance of each word and action to the characters’ lives. The way this is portrayed is through the script, which is very realistic, so much so that it is easy for the audience to imagine having a similar conversation with a good friend or new acquaintance in their own lives. 

Two other main characters that portray a stark contrast in personalities are the cop and the mechanic who appear in the opening scene of the play. The cop is rigid, seeing things in black and white. The mechanic is quite the opposite, as he is nervous, flighty, wandering and a bit slow. 

As the cop, Sarah Vargas does an extraordinary job of using words to draw out humor while the play discusses deep topics on the ordinary occurrences of life and the way it affects people. 

As the mechanic, Sean Parrot is the tragic, forgotten one. He uses interjections and jerky movements to depict someone who feels left behind by life. The audience understands that his character wants to be something more, but he doesn’t know how to change, especially since no one will take him seriously even if he did try. The audience can relate deeply to his remarkable performance of someone who is longing to be more than they are.

The play also does an excellent job covering difficult topics such as suicide and substance abuse. Those who struggle with these challenges are not ridiculed, but treated with compassion — a beautiful example of how it should be in real life. While some of the scenes are difficult to witness as they are painful and sad, it is important to depict these situations with grace because it is a reality for some people. 

In all, this play was very well done and the actors did an amazing job of depicting life as it truly happens. It moves the audience to laughter and tears and is a beautiful look into people in an open, raw way that one does not get the chance to see very often in real life.