Writer: A. R. Gurney
Director: Christopher Burris
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
A.R. Gurney’s The Fourth Wall can be a tricky play to effectively produce. How does one strike a balance between the presentationalism required by the circumstances of characters who openly address being unnerved by a fourth wall, while creating a connection that compels the audience to want that wall to come down? Theater Breaking Through Barriers’ production at A.R.T./New York Theatres comes close to solving this conundrum. Under the guiding hand of director Christopher Burris, the nuances of absurdism and genuine human emotion are well-navigated by a talented cast.
With Bert Scott’s stunning set as their foundation, the cast leans into the reality of their surreal living room experience. Burris’ blocking toes the line perfectly between theatrical presentation and comfortable familiarity with a domestic environment. As the events of the living room vacillate between a continental comedy and a retelling of G. B. Shaw’s Saint Joan, the play finds a great deal of heart and comedic timing. Set during George W. Bush’s presidency, many of the themes and issues resonate with today’s audiences, seen in light of the current administration’s “leadership.” Charging forward as Saint Joan reincarnated is Peggy, expertly portrayed by Anne Marie Morelli. Morelli brings tremendous heart and vulnerability to the role and she is an absolute joy to watch. She shares the stage with Stephen Drabicki, Pamela Sabaugh, and TBTB Artistic Director Nicholas Viselli, all of whom help the layers of this challenging script blossom. Everyone boasts expert comedic timing and shines in their solo moment singing Cole Porter. However there is no denying that Morelli is the star at the center of this domestically revolutionary universe.
Gurney’s script has a few challenging moments, particularly Julia’s continued quips about being a New Yorker that ring as though they were transplanted from a ’90s sitcom. The satire is at times a lot to take, but the direction, performances, and design use the ridiculousness of the piece as intended; as a springboard for a thoughtful investigation of our duty to ourselves, to those closest to us, to the country, to the world… and to interior design.
Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Carol Rosegg