The Fourth Wall
written by A.R. Gurney, directed by David Saint
at the Hasty Pudding
A.R. Gurney came to Cambridge last week seeking feedback on The Fourth Wall, his new play at the Hasty Pudding Theatre.
The Fourth Wall radically departs from Gurney's typical romantic comedy. Straying from the genre which bore such successes as The Dining Room and Love Letters, Gurney ventures into the world of the postmodern.
The play opens as Roger (Tony Roberts) and Julia (Kelly Bishop), discuss the "fourth wall."
In the world of theater, as Andre Antoine's quote states in the program, "the fourth wall is the name we give to the hypothetical wall that separates the stage from the audience in a proscenium theatre."
But, for Roger and Julia, the fourth wall is literally the fourth wall of Roger's apartment which his wife Peggy (E. Katherine Kerr) has chosen to leave absolutely bare. Disturbed by the blankness of the wall, Roger and Julia declare that they feel like they are being watched, as if they were in a play.
Gurney establishes his meta-theatrical premise and then proceeds to make the audience aware of the contrivance of his play and of the medium in general. Roger and Julia discuss how their actions contribute to the plot and talk about wanting to "have scenes" with other characters.
In order to understand in what direction their "play" is going, Peggy and Roger call in Floyd, a theater professor from NYU.
Floyd, played masterfully by Jack Gilpin, is a caricature of an academic. He lives through the plays he studies. Despite his impressive knowledge of drama, Floyd's inability to be part of the adult world is clear when he announces shamefully that he still wets his bed.
The introduction of the pretentious bedwetter has interesting possibilities, but the play runs dry. The idea of characters figuring out their own play has been done before.
Like Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," the play consists of far more waiting than plot. When Julia says, "We've been sitting here for 20 minutes and we haven't got to the plot," she could not have read the audience's mind better.
Gurney strives to keep the audience entertained through his trademark witty dialogue, and often succeeds. When Julia begins a story, "I have a friend....," Floyd cuts her off in a snotty voice, "I seriously doubt that."
Gurney also uses Cole Porter songs in an effort to keep the play moving. However wonderful the songs may be, they do not fit well with the rest of the play. Although each final note evoked applause from the audience, the songs detract from the cohesiveness of "The Fourth Wall."
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