By Caitlyn Maltese
Elm Staff Writer
On Oct. 24, Senior Rachel Dilliplane’s directing thesis, “Middletown” by Will Eno premiered. “Middletown” is a quirky play that has moments of uproarious laughter from the audience to moments where the audience was left teary-eyed.
The play focuses on the lives of the residents of Middletown, a town that was “built on the ruins of other older Middletowns, and before them, a town called Middenton, which was named for being between two other places, both unknown and now incidentally gone,” as said in the play.
“Middletown” is full of dark humor and philosophical inquiries that question human relationships and social norms. “I read it and fell in love with it a thousand times over,” said Dilliplane, who is double majoring in drama and psychology.
There is a scene, right before intermission, where the actors are dressed up as audience members. They sit in the middle of the stage and talk to one another about the play during its intermission. Junior Kendall Davis and Freshman Jimmy Holt, the lead actors in the play, are dressed up as Washington College students. Davis wears a sports jersey, twirls her hair, and comments on the play thus far. Holt plays the role of a lacrosse “bro.” At one point he takes a selfie and snapchats his friends. Essentially this scene is doing what the audience members will be doing once the lights turn on and intermission starts. Dilliplane called this scene “trippy” because of the puzzling way the actors engage the audience.
The play engages the audience, demands a level of thought, and forces audience members to self-reflect throughout the two hour production. “That’s something I liked about the writing,” said Dilliplane. “A lot of plays you can just sit and watch like you’re watching TV, but in this play, you think you can do that and then somebody draws you in and then later, you find yourself talking about the play the same way you saw the audience in the play, talking about the play.”
Dilliplane fell in love with Will Eno’s writing after taking a course by the Chair of the Drama Department and Associate Professor Dr. Michele Volansky during the second semester of her sophomore year. There, they read “Tom Paine (Based On Nothing).” “It’s a really long monologue that just goes on,” said Dilliplane. “I loved it, but my class didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as I did and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I became so determined to do that play and make people love it the way I did. And then, I had a panic attack one day that I didn’t know what play I wanted for my thesis. I went to the library and took out a whole lot of books, a whole lot of scripts, and one of them was a play called ‘Middletown’ by Will Eno.”
In her directors thanks, Dilliplane notes how Eno’s plays, “take the time to remind my technologically overwhelmed generation that despite our constant, immediate access to the massive wonders of the world, there is still wonder in a speck of dirt or in a small, quiet gesture between two human beings. And yes, we are never as alone as we might think.”
After spending the last year on the play, Dilliplane was afraid to share it with other people. However, according to Dilliplane, it seems everyone who worked on the play ended up loving it just as much as she did herself.
“A day ago I was just sitting in the theater and I was on headset and I was doing a thousand different things,” she said. “I was like, ‘Okay, lighting cue. Oh, that could be faster’ and writing notes. And then at some point I just stopped and watched the darn thing, and they are just so amazing. I am so blessed to have them, which sounds so hooky, but I just love them so much. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Coming from the background of being an actor, Dilliplane has found that it affects how she goes about directing a play. “I notice that when I am directing, I direct like an actor,” she said. “It’s been very hard being in rehearsals and knowing how I would do it, but then letting them figure it out…and letting them arrive at it. [I’ve] figured out how to ask the questions that get them there rather than just…copying me.”
“I think I still am very much on the acting side of it,” said Dilliplane. “Three weeks ago, I was like, there’s no way I am doing this the right way. There is no way it will come together. I don’t know what I am doing. Who let me direct this thing? But after tonight, I could find myself back in it again if I find another play that speaks to me.”
After graduating, Dilliplane plans on possibly taking the year off. She might eventually go to graduate school, but for now she wants to try her hand in theater. She has been fortunate enough to receive grants from the Cater Society of Junior Fellows to travel to Montreal, South Africa, and Scotland. There fell in love with Fringe Festivals, where freethinking, uncensored, and original works of performing arts are paramount. Dilliplane’s goal is to get involved in one of the many festivals around the world, but if not would also like to find a theater company just to get her foot in the door. “I’ll do paperwork,” she says. “I don’t mind data entry, just being in the realm of theater is something I’m pursuing.”