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Victor Rivera, playing John, and Emma Holland, playing Mary, rehearse a scene in ‘Middletown.' Photo by Luke Schaffer

Originally published: 2012-11-02 10:04:57
Last modified: 2012-11-02 10:04:57

Davidson directs play 'Middletown' at ASU

by Anna Oakes

Subtlety and nuance are the strengths behind “Middletown,” a play performed at Appalachian State University’s I.G. Greer Studio Theatre Friday through Sunday, Nov. 2 to 4, and Wednesday through Sunday, Nov. 7 to 11.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. each day, except for Sundays, which feature 2 p.m. matinees.
Tickets are $8 for students and youth, $13 for ASU employees and senior citizens and $15 for adults.

The play, which opened Wednesday, is written by Will Eno and directed by ASU lecturer Derek Davidson, who has been active as a teacher, director, playwright and actor since joining the Department of Theatre and Dance a few years ago.

Described as a play “about everyday life and all the workings underneath,” “Middletown” draws inspiration from the work of Edward Hopper, the 20th century artist known for his depictions of small-town American life.

“The story is really about the town,” Davidson said. “It’s really underscoring the small discoveries people can make. The encounters people have with the town, with their own life changes, including death and birth. The way people either try and fail or try and — maybe inadvertently, but sometimes successfully — connect.”

The play features a 22-member ensemble cast led by students Emma Holland and Victor Rivera.

“We get to know them really better than everyone else,” Davidson said.

The play, in the intimate setting of the small I.G. Greer Studio Theatre, rewards audiences with quiet, simple moments, he said.

“We have some really subtle, nuanced performances,” he added.

Molly Winstead, who performs in “Middletown,” said the play is challenging because it lacks action.

“It is mostly language, which can (be) hard to make interesting for an audience,” said Winstead. “Will Eno’s play, fortunately, has the perfect mix of word play and moments of genuine honesty. It is an honest, unpretentious look at people and life.”

Davidson has more than 30 years of experience as a performing artist.

Prior to coming to ASU, Davidson was associate artistic director of the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., and coordinated the theater’s Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights. He has taught at universities in Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington.

“He truly is a ‘Renaissance’ man,” said ASU theater professor Teresa Lee. “He makes creative contributions in so many areas beyond teaching in the classroom — dramaturgy, directing, playing live music in productions, choreography, writing — you name it, he can do it.”

Lee worked with Davidson on the Appalachian Young People’s Theatre production of “Beans Talk” last spring and “Shipwrecked” this summer.

“He’s a joy to work with because he is a wonderful collaborator,” she said. “As a playwright, I think he writes with a provocative blend of irreverence, sophistication and wit. He doesn’t play it safe.”

Davidson’s film “This is Not the South” has been screened at festivals and conferences throughout the Southeast, and this summer, his play “Bumbershoot” was produced as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America. The website Indie Theatre Now called “Bumbershoot” one of the best 20 plays of the 180 featured at the festival.

Winstead accompanied Davidson to New York this summer to act in “Bumbershoot,” for which Davidson also directed and acted.

“As a director, he comes into a project with a clear idea of what he wants to see and make happen onstage,” she said. “But he does not push his ideas onto actors. He urges us to make our own character choices, hoping that we come to our own conclusions to grow into our characters rather than be told who our characters are.”

Tickets for “Middletown” are available in person at the Valborg Theatre box office Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., by phone at (828) 262-3063 and online at