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CWRU/CPH MFA Class of 2026 Debut In MIDDLETOWN

Posted February 9, 2024 in Press Releases


(Cleveland, OH) The Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House (CWRU/CPH) MFA Acting Program Class of 2026 is pleased to make their performance debut as an ensemble in Will Eno’s award-winning play, Middletown. Directed by Donald Carrier, director of the CWRU/MFA Acting Program, Eno’s witty contemporary play runs February 21st through March 2nd in the Helen Theatre at Playhouse Square. The production features Madalyn Baker, Byron Johnson, Brendan Lowry, Christina McSheffrey, Calder Meis, Brianna Miller, Meredith Nelson, and Adam Ortega. General admission tickets can be purchased at 216.241.6000 or by visiting

Welcome to Middletown, USA. Population: Stable. Elevation: Same. It’s an ordinary small town. With ordinary people. All living seemingly ordinary lives. And yet, from all this ordinary emerges the extraordinary—the absurd, the comedic, and the beautiful moments of lives being lived. Told with humor and deep compassion, this spiritual successor to Our Town shows us the joy, sadness, small victories and defeats we experience as we go through the ups and downs of being human.

CPH Artistic Director Michael Barakiva says, “This is an ideal project for MFA students because it depicts everyday folx doing everyday things, which we all know are infinitely more difficult to make interesting and theatrical. That, and the ensemble structure, make us especially excited about welcoming audiences to Middletown.”

At the helm of the production is Donald Carrier, director of the CWRU/MFA Acting Program. Carrier shares his excitement about the production, “Will Eno has a unique voice. He set out to write a play about birth and death and everything in between, where sometimes small events become significant, with tremendous impact. It's a wonderful play to explore in the first year of training as it challenges our students to remain grounded and not always strive for the ‘big moment’. The characters in this play are your friends and neighbors and I am excited about the journey we are all taking with this play.”

Jeffrey Ullom, CWRU Associate Professor of Theater and Interim Chair of the Department of Theater Chair, is eager to see the students’ hard work on stage. Ullom says, “The introduction of our new cohort to Cleveland Play House audiences and to our professional community is an exciting event. The high-quality performances offered by these wonderful actors in their coursework have impressed the faculty, and we are excited for the audiences to witness and admire their remarkable talents in this modern derivative of the American classic Our Town. Will Eno’s Middletown is the perfect ensemble show to allow our students to stretch themselves and reveal their talents.”

Middletown opened Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 2010, winning Will Eno the 2010 Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play. Middletown was also produced by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, as well as Cleveland’s Dobama Theatre.

The design team for Middletown includes scenic design by Ben Needham; costume design by Jeffrey Van Curtis; lighting design by Adam Ditzel; and sound design by Angie Hayes. Additional creative team members include Catherine Albers (Acting Coach), Beth McGee (Vocal Coach), Eliza Ladd Schwarz (Movement Coach), and Santino Garofalo (Production Stage Manager).

Tickets for Middletown are $15, with $7.50 tickets for currently enrolled students (valid student ID required). Ohio Direction/EBT cardholders receive $5 admission to any performance (up to 8 tickets). Single tickets can be purchased by calling 216.241.6000 or by visiting Groups of 10 or more can save $5 off by contacting CPH Groups Sales at 216.400.7053.



The cast of Middletown consists of members of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House MFA Class of 2026:

MADALYN BAKER (Mechanic/Auntie) is an actor, illustrator, and musician originally hailing from Northern California. She earned her BA in Theatre from Fordham University and spent the last 9 years living and creating in New York City. In addition to being an actor, she writes music, and has her own illustrative art brand, Maddle Baddle. You can also see her this April as Sally Bowles in the CWRU production of Cabaret at the Roe Green

BYRON JOHNSON (Public Speaker/Male Tourist/Male Doctor/Freelancer/Attendant) hails from New Orleans and initially pursued dreams of a professional football career. After a successful college football journey, he made a bold shift to acting in 2018. Notable credits include roles in Young Rock on NBC, Walker on CW, and a recurring part in Showtime’s American Rust.

BRENDAN LOWRY (Astronaut/Tour Guide/Male Date/Landscaper/Attendant/Radio Announcer) is originally from Colorado Springs, CO. He recently finished his BFA in Musical Theatre from Colorado Mesa University. Previous roles from Colorado Mesa include Floyd Collins (Floyd Collins), Sky Masterson (Guys and Dolls), and Judas Iscariot/John the Baptist (Godspell)

CHRISTINA MCSHEFFREY (Female Doctor/Female Tourist/Sweetheart/Ground Control) is grateful to be debuting as a CPH/CWRU MFA student in Middletown. She previously lived in Phoenix, Arizona, where she got her BA in Theatre at Grand Canyon University. Select credits: Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Maria in Twelfth Night (Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival); Miranda in The Tempest (Southwest Shakespeare Company).

CALDER MEIS (John/Janitor) is ecstatic to make his CWRU/CPH MFA debut in Middletown. Favorite credits: The Last Night of Ballyhoo (Peachy Weil), Abigail/1702 (John Brown), and Footloose (Ren). He received a BFA in Theatre Performance from Baylor

BRIANNA MILLER (Mary/Cop Voiceover) is so excited to make her CWRU/CPH MFA debut in this production. Recent credits: The Naif in Sleeping Giant (Know Theatre), Millie Davis in Trouble in Mind (Cincinnati Shakespeare Company), and Camae in The Mountaintop (Uptown Knauer Performing Arts Center). She also worked with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company on The Living Dead, Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

MEREDITH NELSON (Librarian/Female Date/Intercom Voice) is an actor, director, and educator from Denver, Colorado. She received her undergraduate degree in theatre performance from The University of Evansville. After graduation, she taught elementary music and drama for three years to K-5 students. Favorite credits: Prospera in The Tempest, Betty 1 in Collective Rage, and Julie in Miss Julie.

ADAM ORTEGA (Cop/Ground Control) is a first-year student in the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program. Hailing from South Florida, Adam earned his BFA in Acting at The University of Michigan. His theatre credits include Don Armado in Love's Labour's Lost (Great River Shakespeare Festival) and Drunk Shakespeare (Off-Broadway)


WILL ENO (Playwright) is a Residency Five Fellow at the Signature Theatre in New York, which presented Title and Deed in 2012, and The Open House, in 2014. His new play, Wakey, Wakey premiered there in February 2017. Following an acclaimed run at Yale Repertory Theatre, his play The Realistic Joneses was on Broadway in 2014, directed by Sam Gold and staring Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, and Marisa Tomei. The Realistic Joneses won a Drama Desk Award, was named USA Today’s “Best Play on Broadway,” topped the The Guardian’s 2014 list of American plays, and was included in The N.Y. Times’ “Best Theatre of 2014.” The Open House won the 2014 Obie Award, the Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, and a Drama Desk Award, and was included in both the Time Out New York and Time Magazine Top 10 Plays of the Year. Title and Deed was on The N.Y. Times and The New Yorker magazine’s Top Ten Plays of 2012. His play Gnit, a loving but aggressive adaptation of Peer Gynt, premiered at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville in 2013. Middletown, winner of the Horton Foote Award, premiered at the Vineyard Theatre and subsequently at Steppenwolf Theater and many other American Theaters and universities. His internationally heralded play Thom Pain (based on nothing) ran at the Geffen Playhouse in Winter of 2016 starring Rainn Wilson, was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. He was recently awarded the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation Award. His plays are published by Samuel French, TCG, Dramatists Play Service, and playscripts, in the U.S., and Oberon Books in London.

DONALD CARRIER (Director) most recently directed The Liar for the MFA Program, Othello at Texas Shakespeare Festival, Ellis Island: The Dream of America for The Cleveland Orchestra and Doubt for the Beck Center. For the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program, he has also directed Passage, Fifth of July, Clybourne Park, The Misanthrope, Too True to Be Good, and The Violins of Hope. Other directing includes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Seminar, and Really Really (Beck Center for the Arts); and Becky Shaw (Dobama Theatre). Other selected directing credits include The Crucible, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Habeas Corpus, The Pirates of Penzance, and Oh! What a Lovely War. He has appeared at Cleveland Play House in Shakespeare in Love; All the Way; Luna Gale; The Crucible; The Little Foxes; Yentl; In the Next Room, or the vibrator play; Ten Chimneys; Noises Off; and Lincolnesque. Regional credits include The National Arts Center, Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, Great Lakes Theater, The Studio Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre, The Wilma Theater, The Huntington Theatre, The Intiman Theatre, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He spent nine seasons at the Stratford Festival, three seasons at the Old Globe, and two seasons at the Shaw Festival. Television/Film: Guns, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Passion of Ayn Rand, and Dead by Monday. Don is a proud Lunt/Fontanne Fellow and is the Director of CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program.

BEN NEEDHAM (Scenic Designer) (he/him) serves as the Program Director for the Academy for the Performing Arts, overseeing the technical theatre and film aspects of the Academy for the past 16 years. Ben holds an MFA from the University of Georgia in Theatre Design and a BA from Case Western Reserve University in Theater Arts. He has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia, Case Western Reserve University, Lakeland Community College, Lake Erie College, and Kent State University. He is the Owner and Principal Designer of Digital Squirrel Studio, a full-service animation, design, and architectural illustration studio. He has designed over 900 theatre productions in the past 25 years. His film and television design credits include Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Reagan, Meg Ryan’s Ithaca, and AMC’s Turn: Washington’s Spies. Ben was most recently a set designer on the films The Outpost and Son of the

JEFFREY VAN CURTIS (Costume Designer) is Cleveland Play House’s costume shop manager. CPH design credits include A Carol for Cleveland, My Name is Asher Lev, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, Doubt, I Am My Own Wife, Rounding Third, Proof, Dinner with Friends, and Art. CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program design credits include Fifth of July, She Stoops to Conquer, A Philadelphia Story, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale, An Orchard, and others; along with several CPH Theatre for Children productions. Other design credits include Singin’ on the Ohio and The Goblins Will Git You at The Lantern Theatre, productions at Coconut Grove Playhouse and Studio Arena Theatre, and work on the film Kansas City. He has also created wigs for several CPH productions. He holds his Master of Fine Arts, Costume Design and Technology from University of Missouri–Kansas City.

ADAM DITZEL (Lighting Designer) is a Cleveland based lighting designer and programmer. He recently served as Lighting Director and Designer for Animals As Leaders summer tour. Recent theatre designs include: The Tempest and The Liar for CPH/CWRU; Fun Home for Cain Park; Doubt, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and A Member of The Wedding for Beck Center; Tuesdays With Morrie for Magical Theatre; and The Music Man for Near West Theatre. Regional: Lakeland Civic Theatre, Heidelberg University, LatinUS Theater, Cleveland Public Theatre, Verb Ballets, Cleveland Ballet, and Inlet Dance. As an assistant, he has worked with Cleveland State University, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, and Ballet Des Moines. He holds a degree in Lighting Design & Technology from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).

ANGIE HAYES (Sound Designer) has designed and mixed sound for productions at many area theaters, colleges, and high schools. Recent design credits include FUN HOME at Cain Park, The Other Place at Dobama, Something Rotten at Beck Center, and The Moors at Oberlin College. She is the resident sound designer for Dobama Theatre. She has also recorded and sound designed for several podcasts, including Beyond the Habit, Sidewalk, and Munchen, MN. She has a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, with an emphasis in Recording Technology and Music Business.

CATHERINE ALBERS (Acting Coach) is a professional actress and Professor Emeritus at Case Western Reserve University, where she was a master teacher in the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program. She has performed throughout the country and does film and commercial work. She is a founding member of Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium, a producing and teaching organization. Since her retirement she has continued to work on stage and on camera. She will be seen this May at Dobama Theatre in Significant Other.

ELIZA LADD SCHWARZ (Movement Coach) is a performer, director, stage writer, composer, and choreographer from NYC. She is thrilled to join the faculty at CWRU/CPH MFA after 10 years teaching at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory. Eliza has created original multi-disciplinary work in NYC at PS 122, Dixon Place, Movement Research, the Knitting Factory, and Joyce Soho, and performed at La Mama, the Kitchen, NY Theater Workshop, St. Ann’s Warehouse and with Shakespeare and Company in MA. Notable recent works include Agridulce/Bittersweet, an Andrew W Mellon Foundation funded project; Work/Play/Work, a theatrical ensemble zoom response to the 2020 call for social justice; and her solo works Gravity and Levity and Autobiography of the Human Species. Eliza holds a BA in Comparative Religion from Harvard University and an MFA in Theater: Contemporary Performance from Naropa

BETH MCGEE (Voice Coach) is a member of Actor’s Equity and a voice, speech, and dialect coach. She is one of the co-founders of Cleveland’s immersive theater company Shadow of the Run LLC, and was the playwright for their first immersive piece, Wanderlust. She was the on-set dialect coach for Cinemax’s 2016 television series Quarry, directed by Greg Yaitanes. She has acted as dialect coach for many Cleveland area theaters and dialect coached the 2002 film Welcome to Collinwood starring George Clooney, and directed by the Russo Brothers. She has coached and/or acted in productions at numerous Cleveland area theaters. She is a Professor of Voice and Acting at CWRU. Devotees of folk music can find her 1980 Folkways album Love is Teasing housed in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution.

JEFFREY ULLOM (Dramaturg) is an Associate Professor of Theater at Case Western Reserve University where he teaches theatre history and dramaturgy. He is the author of several books and articles focusing on regional theatre, including his most recent book on Cleveland Play House America’s First Regional Theatre. As a dramaturg, he worked with notable playwrights including Tony Kushner, David Henry Hwang, John Patrick Shanley and others at the Humana Festival of New American Plays, and he has served as a dramaturg for several Cleveland Play House productions. He is currently working on two books—a broad history of regional theatre and a murder mystery involving theatre history.

LISA O’BRIEN (Assistant Director) is currently a fourth-year Theatre and International Studies major at CWRU. You may have seen her act as the Moor-Hen in the undergraduate production of The Moors this past fall, but now she is taking on a role on the other side of the table. After graduation she hopes to follow her passions of doing all things theatre and entertainment.

SANTINO GAROFALO (Stage Manager) is happy to be here again at CPH. Santino graduated from the University of Dayton in 2020 and started his stage managing career at CPH in the fall of 2021 with the CPH/CWRU production of Twelfth Night. Santino’s most recent gig was a concert for the American Music Abroad at the Maltz Performing Arts Center in which he received a certificate of appreciation from the United States Department of State.


MICHAEL BARAKIVA (Artistic Director) is an Armenian-Israeli American director and writer who has staged new plays, revivals, and classics in New York City and around the country. Michael was appointed Artistic Director of Cleveland Play House in December 2023, where he served as director of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as co-director of CPH’s world premiere production of Ken Ludwig’s Moriarty: A New Sherlock Holmes Adventure. Barakiva’s work has been seen at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Primary Stages, Syracuse Stage, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, and the Hangar Theatre, where he served as Artistic Director. He founded The Upstart Creatures, a theatre company that creates community through performance and food, as well as the Leadership Initiative Project, which equips historically excluded artists with the tools to succeed in leadership positions. Barakiva has received three Drama League directing fellowships, the Phil Killian Directing Fellowship (OSF), the David Merrick Prize in Drama, and was a Granada Artist-in-Residence at UC Davis. He led a week-long workshop on musical theatre at the International Puppet Theater in Sofia, Bulgaria, and was a presenter at the International University Theatre Festival at UNAM in Mexico City. He served as producer of Summer Camp 6 (Soho Rep) and as the Readings and Workshops Coordinator at New York Stage and Film, as well as a Primary Coach on Season 2 of MTV’s Made. As a writer, Barakiva is the recipient of a Red Bull Commission for his adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, an EST/Sloan Project Commission, and a co-author of String Theory (Connotation Press). His young adult novels have been named to the Rainbow List, Equality Family Council Reading List, The Barnes and Noble’s Perfect Valentine’s Day YA Novels list, spending over a year as Goodreads #1 LGBTQ YA Novel. Education: Vassar College, The Juilliard School.

RACHEL L. FINK (Managing Director) is thrilled to be returning home to Northeast Ohio after 25 years. Her childhood was filled with fundamental and rich Cleveland arts experiences — and it was at Heights High (Go Tigers!) that Fink’s passion for arts access, social justice, and inclusive, equitable practices was ignited. She carried those values with her as she enrolled at Case Western Reserve University, where an astute professor introduced her to the field of arts administration, and she hasn’t turned back since. The experience at CWRU led to an internship at Cleveland Play House, followed by earning an MFA in theater management at the Yale School of Drama (now the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale). After graduate school, Fink ventured west to Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California, where she founded and grew the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre into a nationally-recognized learning hub which centered theatre as an essential education and engagement tool for all ages, providing direct service and support to more than 300 theatres and 2,000 artists across the San Francisco Bay Area. Most recently, Fink served as the executive director of the Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois. Producing highlights include Plantation! by Kevin Douglas and directed by David Schwimmer; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written and directed by David Catlin; Her Honor Jane Byrne, written and directed by J. Nicole Brooks (holiday radio broadcast in partnership with local NPR affiliate, WBEZ); Steadfast Tin Soldier, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman; and Lookingglass Alice, written and directed by David Catlin. Fink has held professional distinctions including co-leading the Professional Association of Chicago Theatres; and serving as a Fellow at the Civic Leadership Academy at the University of Chicago/Harris School of Public Policy; as the US delegate for the British Council’s Cultural Leadership International Programme; as a member of the American Express/Aspen Institute Fellowship for Emerging Nonprofit Leaders inaugural class; and as a 2016 artEquity facilitator cohort member.


Since 1996, Case Western Reserve University has partnered with Cleveland Play House. Every two years, eight actors are chosen from the hundreds who audition nationwide to join this rigorous three-year conservatory program. The CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program admits committed and bold young artists who possess a love of language, empathy for the human experience, a vivid imagination and the desire to develop the necessary physical and vocal skills for a successful and sustained career in the ever-evolving performing arts scene. All three years are spent in residency at Cleveland Play House, providing students with unique access to its new downtown Cleveland state-of-the-art facilities and the professional expertise of its staff.


CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE, founded in 1915 and recipient of the 2015 Regional Theatre Tony Award, is America's first professional regional theatre. Throughout its rich history, CPH has remained dedicated to its mission to inspire, stimulate, and entertain diverse audiences across Northeast Ohio by producing plays and theatre education programs of the highest professional standards. CPH has produced more than 100 world and/or American premieres, and over its long history more than 12 million people have attended over 1,600 productions. Today, Cleveland Play House celebrates the beginning of its second century of service while performing in three state-of-the art venues at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland. Cleveland Play House is made possible in part by state tax dollars allocated by the Ohio Legislature to the Ohio Arts Council (OAC). The OAC is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Cleveland Play House is supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.


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