Red Stitch Actors Theatre is excited to be presenting the Australian premiere of Middletown by Will Eno – a richly imagined play about small town America exploring everyday hopes, fears, longing and humanness.
The play has been described as a delicate, moving and wry amble along the collective road to nowhere, but underneath it all beats the persistent patter of metaphysical questions to do with existence and matter.
For actor Christina O’Neill the themes explored by Eno are extremely universal. “They are very human concerns, significant to anyone with a beating heart and a thinking mind,” says O’Neill. ” What are we doing on this earth? What does it feel like? What does it mean? The play is kind of a love letter to metaphysics. It’s macro and micro at the same time. It’s about the miracle and the mediocrity of life (and how maybe they are one in the same). It’s poetry and it’s colloquial. It covers a pretty wide spectrum of the human condition and experience – through this microcosm of life in a small town called Middletown. Which could be any place really.”
O’Neill plays Mrs. Swanson, a woman who has just moved to Middletown. She is trying to build a new home and family life there, whilst trying to contest the loneliness of her anonymity in a new place. Despite this, she is an optimist and O’Neill likes that she lives with so much hope, it’s a nice way to see the world.
Citizens of Middletown tend to communicate on the existential plain but Eno’s ability to write dialogue that is rich in both texture and image creates a work of true lyrical wonder. “I love many things about the play but I think I love the language most of all,” says O’Neill. “Eno has this knack for making things sounds poetic but frank at the same time. It’s beautiful.”
Eno has developed a reputation as one of America’s most exciting playwrights with his plays being produced on international stages to rave reviews. His Pulitzer Price nominated play Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) was Eno’s ticket to New York City. Eno has been compared to Samuel Beckett who was one of the first to explore ‘simple human stuff’ through his work. Middletown has been compared to the American classic Our Town by Thornton Wilder – both exploring what lies beneath small town life – however Eno lifts his work above Wilder’s 1938 classic to give us fully fledged individuals investing in, and vulnerable to, their fears and anxieties.
For O’Neill the show is a very funny, tender and honest exploration of what it feels like to be human; the limitations, desires, truth, darkness and hope of an average life…and how extraordinary that is.
O’Neill graduated from WAAPA in 2005 and after making her Red Stitch debut in 2012, she joined the ensemble in 2013. Theatre credits include Prodigal, Monty Pythons Spamalot, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical and as Christmas Eve in Avenue Q, for which she won a 2010 Best Supporting Actress Helpmann Award. In 2013, O’Neill made her Victorian Opera debut playing Dot in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. She recently appeared in Gaybies (MTC) for the Midsumma Festival and as April White in Savage in Limbo for Workhorse Theatre Company.
As with all Red Stitch ensemble members, O’Neill is involved in the programming of each season. Every year they read multitudes of plays, discuss projects that excite, inspire and incite feelings (positive and negative ones) and then debate which plays they want to produce and why. “The first time I read Middletown I was a huge fan and knew it was a piece I wanted to see on our stage,” she says. “The majority of the ensemble felt the same way, so naturally, it earned a spot in our 2015 season.”
O’Neill also spent time studying at the famous Stella Adler Studio in NY and posits that the difference between acting schools and content in Australia and the US is that there are more schools in the U.S that specialize in a particular technique (and more schools in general). But she acknowledges that that may be changing. “I studied at Stella Adler but our teacher there had also studied at Strasberg and was the Dean of the Actors Studio, so even he didn’t subscribe to teaching one technique,” explains O’Neill. “I think it’s great to mine jewels from any school of thought that works for you & to be familiar with many techniques.”
” That being said, here are a few important things I learned at Stella Adler:”
*Preparation. Become an expert on the text & your character. Read it again and again. And then again. Trust your ideas and point of view. Adler famously said “your talent is in your choice”.
* Listen. Acting is behaviour. How can you respond organically if you’re not listening to others or yourself?
* Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s counter-productive. How can you be vulnerable or joyful or full of ideas when you’re tough on yourself?
For O’Neill, “Middletown explores the miraculous in the mundane and the mystery of everyday life…so in turn, I’m exploring it. Turns out, it’s a pretty nice place to live.”
Middletown features Red Stitch ensemble members Jordan Fraser-Trumble (Underbelly) and Christina O’Neill (Avenue Q, Gaybies) with special guest actors Evelyn Krape (More Female Parts and Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday), Gareth Reeves (Underbelly, The Cult), Edwina Samuels (Wentworth) & James Wardlaw (Gallipoli, Lily’s Mom).
November 20 – December 19
redstitch.net/bookings or call 03 9533 8083