Heather Burns, left, and David Garrison in Will Eno's "Middletown"...

Heather Burns, left, and David Garrison in Will Eno's "Middletown" at Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th Street), opens officially November 3, 2010. Credit: Carol Rosegg

Will Eno's "Middletown," the first winner of the new Horton Foote Prize for Promising American Play, is a dizzying modern spin on life, death and the bruised underbelly of the sort of hamlet life in Thorton Wilder's "Our Town."

It begins with a Public Speaker (David Garrison) delivering a luscious, fractured, stream-of-consciousness prologue that greets, among many others, "every last lone dying and inconsolably lonely person." We meet a newcomer (Heather Burns), a cheerful but isolated wife, and her neighbor (Linus Roache), a self-challenging handyman. They both converge on the librarian (the so-sweet-she's-profound Georgia Engel), as does the grubby lurker, who has just been badly choked by a pleasant psychopath of a cop.

Eno clearly likes to mess with us in layers of oblique and blunt changes of tone, and director Ken Rus Schmoll nails them, mostly without condescending to the peculiar, hapless yet individual characters. The town astronaut (don't ask) looks down and says, "It doesn't look lonely from up here." But when the Public Speaker says "someone is born, someone will die. Both are you," the lonely are us.


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