BWW Review: What Lies Beyond Ideality in A.R. Gurney's THE FOURTH WALL
Picture a living room, set within a beautiful home and therefore beautiful itself. A piano is nestled in the corner, a couch in the center and furniture surrounding - all encapsulated by a mirrored wall that completes a rather pleasant picture. The audience is reflected in said mirror, bringing it into the scene but unacknowledged as this "fourth wall" the actor does its best to keep erect. A man enters the room, apprehensive of a wall on the other side of the mirror that does not belong; he cannot look past it, cannot help but be perturbed by how wrong it seems. As the man becomes compelled to behave as an actor does, trying his utmost not to acknowledge beyond what lies on his "stage," the true significance of this wall comes to light...but not before the comedy and wacky rationale that is A.R. Gurney's The Fourth Wall happens. Now in performances at the A.R.T./New York Theatres for the show's first Off-Broadway revival, A.R. Gurney is represented by a talented production team and cast who bring one of his lesser-done shows to celebrated life.
Presented by Theater Breaking Through Barriers and under the direction of Christopher Burris, The Fourth Wall is anything but inhibiting, especially in terms of its creation. This Off-Broadway company brings actors with and without disabilities together to break stereotypes and portray how little there is separating all those who wish to bring their love of theater to an audience. The collaborative efforts of a diverse cast are proven successful in this rather momentous production of a show not many people can acknowledge as having seen.
The Fourth Wall is an impressive mix of quite a few things: it is at times a lecture, then a series of deductions, a political tirade, a series of structured scenes in a play followed by the ever growing mystery behind why a wall within a recently re-designed living room is causing such disarray in an average household. This issue of "the wall" soon escalates into the main purpose of the play: it is not the wall itself causing problems, but an absence of any desire to see what could possible lie beyond it or to understand its nature without getting caught in a dramatic diversion.
The Fourth Wall follows Peggy and Roger, who differ in their opinions of the strange wall that resides in the newly-renovated living room. A typical household is besmirched by its presence, but the audience is unaware as to what this wall actually represents. In fact, the only things we see are the characters before us and our own faces reflected on the opposite mirrored wall; we are a true audience, with the knowledge of ourselves in tact but unknown to those on stage. Rightfully so, this living room turns into a stage and those upon it actors, as surprised with their sudden change in behavior as everyone else. Roger, so disturbed by the presence of this wall, calls on his old friend Julia to determine what should be done.
After using her New York powers of interior design to identify it as an eyesore, she sets her sights elsewhere: on Roger, who is more worried about the source of his wife's troublesome decorating choices. Peggy enters, and she explains the wall as something that both keeps them inhibited and compels them to break through to see what lies on the other side. Her desire to know more than what she is meant to understand leads to the conviction that President George W. Bush is to blame. With both the wall and his agitated wife to now contend with, in addition to avoiding the advances of his relentless female friend, Roger calls in Floyd, a professor of drama at the nearby university who is at the ready to give verbose explanations of what he believes is going on. What ensues is a carefully constructed means to and end that explains what we've just witnessed.
This production of The Fourth Wall is really something quite special, as it keeps the momentum within a show that can easily fall into something of a lecture; Gurney presented an intelligence that must be transposed to the stage with every ounce of energy the actors and creative team can give. Gurney added to the show's political agenda after the September 11th attacks, but what this play tries to convey is as relevant today as it was in the past. I thoroughly enjoyed how this show makes the audience think, all the while retaining its dramatic stance.
There is a perpetual sense of unease as both characters and audience try to figure out why Peggy redecorated the living room so that all inside must face an undesired wall. She firmly believes there is something beyond it - something that they may not understand or wish to even acknowledge as there. This can refer to anything that begins to crack the perfect lifestyle this family portrays. Whether what is behind that wall is a certain kind of person, an ideology different than the characters' own or just something that is "other" or unknown, the question of what this means to the structured lives we live is explored throughout this clever production.
As Peggy tries to convince everyone (acting as though a sudden drama has arisen in their simple lives) that there is something on the other side of that wall, using the traditional fourth wall to make the audience both accepting of what is, while it also plays the "unknown" by seeing itself reflected but not acknowledged in the mirror. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the actors muddle through their confusion, while Peggy makes a decision at the end to follow what her intuition was telling her to do all along. Alongside the plot is a beautiful set (complete with self-playing piano), a bunch of well dressed characters and music that brings characters together as much as it does apart - a clever plot twist indeed!
The Fourth Wall couldn't be the interesting, well-rounded show it is without a wonderful cast and crew. Stephen Drabicki, Ann Marie Morelli, Pamela Sabaugh and Nicholas Viselli round out a small but powerful cast. Kudos must also go to Set/Lighting Designer Bert Scott, Costume Designer Courtney E. Butt, Sound Designer Andy Evan Cohen, Prop Designer Cody Lee, Assistant Director Ashley Scott, Artistic Director Nicholas Viselli and Musical Director Dionne McClain-Feeney. Yes, there is musical magic in the midst of mass confusion, and it works wonders.
The Fourth Wall began performances on May 26th and will continue through June 23rd; the show is being performed at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres (located at 502 West 53rd Street). Performances are Tuesday-Wednesday at 7:00 pm, Thursday-Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $50 and are available by calling (212) 352-3101 or by visiting www.tbtb.org.
Enjoy the show!