If "Middletown" sounds like a familiar place, that is the point.
"There are 26 Middletowns in America," notes HCC theater professor Tim Cochran and director of the Holyoke Community College spring production of "Middletown," by Will Eno, which opens Thursday, April 18, in HCC's Leslie Phillips Theater. "There's nothing in the play that places it in any particular location. It could represent any town in the U.S."
Literally, the story is about a woman, Mary Swanson (played by Grace Spelman, from Longmeadow), who moves to a small town. There, she forges a friendship with longtime resident John Dodge (played by Cory Missildine, from Chicopee). The complication is that Mary is trying to get pregnant but her husband hasn't yet joined her in Middletown.
"It really is a story of life in this little town and what people face anywhere," says Cochran. "It's a small play about little things that represent big ideas, the dichotomy between life and death, private and public, loneliness and connectedness and how these things fall into conflict in one small town, Middletown, that represents all other towns."
The play, which won the Horton Foote Award for Most Promising Play of 2010, follows the characters' search for identity and meaning. Mary Swanson and her husband moved to Middletown to be closer to his job, but, ironically, he is always away on business trips. John Dodge is constantly taking up new hobbies to distract him from the hopelessness of his life. There are also subplots featuring a beat cop, a drug addict, the town librarian, even an astronaut.
"It's not about one person, and it treats each character three-dimensionally," says Cochran. "Middletown gives voice to the disenfranchised -- people we may not want to see."
The play also pays homage to "Our Town" as characters break the fourth wall at times and speak directly to the audience. It begins with a prologue from a narrator, like the stage manager's introduction in Thornton Wilder's American classic.
"This is how Will Eno sees life in all its humor and tragedy," says Cochran. "He writes unapologetically about how he sees people in the world. I think there is a great deal of humanity in the play, a lot of heart. It's hopeful and tragic in the same breath."
The HCC Players will present "Middletown" April 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, and 27th.
All performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Leslie Phillips Theater in the Fine & Performing Arts Building at Holyoke Community College, 303 Homestead Ave., Holyoke.
Tickets are $10 (general admission), $8 (students and seniors) and $5 (HCC students, faculty and staff with a valid ID).
Tickets are available at the door or in advance by calling (413) 552-2485. The box office opens an hour before each performance.
Photos: Cory Missildine (as John Dodge) and Grace Spelman (as Mary Swanson) rehearse scenes from Will Eno's "Middletown."