The Challenge of Being a ‘middleman’

November 15, 2013
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By Philip Dorian

Once in a while, I feel like not writing about a play I’ve intended to review. Not because it’s so bad, although that has precluded some reviews, but because the play makes so little sense that offering an opinion would be an exercise in futility.

New Jersey Repertory Company’s “middlemen,” with that pretentious lower case ‘m,’ is such a piece, but I’ll take a stab at it.

David Friedlander, left, and Duncan M. Rogers are in “middlemen,” through Dec. 8 at the New Jersey Repertory Company.

David Friedlander, left, and Duncan M. Rogers are in “middlemen,” through Dec. 8 at the New Jersey Repertory Company.


Even describing David Jenkins’s “middlemen” is a challenge. Set in a shiny labyrinth of office cubicles, some with doors and some just open passages, two men are charged with getting out an un-named company’s annual report. Before getting to work, there’s quite a to-do about the lack of milk for the coffee. Stanley (Duncan M. Rogers) goes off on nondairy creamer (“a blend of horse bones and the bad dreams of children,” in the play’s best line) and then decries the watery skim milk coworker Michael (David Friedlander) manages to procure.

The milk crisis is the first digression in what I’m guessing is supposed to be a commentary on the decline of accountability on the part of an ever-decreasing work force in corporate America – hardly breaking news.

Among other topics tossed into the mix are a family photo left by a departed coworker that includes his “retarded” son and Stanley’s fractious relationship with his own young son who expresses himself by smearing, um, stuff, on the bathroom walls. The inept men go into paroxysms of hysteria when the copier malfunctions, and there’s an ongoing debate over whether or not the men are responsible for the bankruptcy of Bolivia, more likely the fault of Butch and Sundance.

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There’s more extraneous gobbledygook, but halfway into “middlemen’s” 90 minutes my attention flagged. I was reengaged a few times by the actors’ irrational outbursts, but considering the material, commenting on their performances or on Marc Geller’s direction would be like drawing on unarmed men.

Afterward, a woman said, “I guess this is ‘theater of the absurd.’ ” Well, no. Theater of the absurd is a well-regarded, existentialist theatrical genre; “middlemen” is just absurd.


Through Dec. 8 at NJ Rep, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. Performances are: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: ($40) 732-229-3166 or at

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