Too Clever by a Fourth

A.R. Gurney's The 4th Wall at Palm Beach Dramaworks comes close to its potential before dashing it all

Living her circumscribed suburban life within the solid walls of her home, she is denied the camaraderie of her fellow citizenry, and this is no idle concern. It is the wish for one of the earliest conceptions of the nation, envisioned by Puritan settler John Winthrop, who described members of the colony he would establish as being part of a single body: "All the parts of this body being thus united are made so contiguous in a special relation as they must need partake of each other's strength and infirmity, joy and sorrow, weale and woe." And even as the unseen audience becomes a stand-in for the citizenry to which Peggy has been taught not to hold herself accountable, it also becomes a stand-in for generations yet to be. Peggy cannot bear the notion that an unseen audience is judging her on her inability to correct the ills of the world, and she wants to act — to end the war, to cure AIDS, to end starvation. She must do these things, she knows, for there are people whose fate shall be determined by her own ability to see herself as an active participant in the world: an actor. As this moment played onstage, I felt more alive to the possibilities of the theater than I had been in a long while. Dear God, I thought, they're really going to go for it! But they didn't. When the scene was over, it was back to clever self-references and laughter. It felt like a retreat, or like Gurney had teased us with the moment just to show us how superior he is to his creation.

Details

The 4th Wall Written by A.R. Gurney. Directed by J. Barry Lewis. With Patti Gardner, Angie Radosh, Peter Thomasson, and Gregg Weiner. Presented through February 3 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach. Call 561-514-4042, or visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.com.

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It was OK to laugh at Monty Python's The Meaning of Life because you knew the Pythons didn't really care for meaning and wouldn't have much use for it if they found it. The hell of The 4th Wall is that Gurney did find it, or came close, and he laughed too. Gurney is a smart man, so maybe he knows what he's doing. But I want to be more convinced before I join in. After all, when Peggy is pointing to all the unseen citizens beyond the wall, she is pointing to us. She never laughs once.

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