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The Fourth Wall

It seems everywhere we look theatres are responding to the mounting intensity of this year's election campaign with thoughtful pieces aimed at getting audiences to contemplate the stakes involved. Up in Boulder, the new management at Nomad Theatre, the metro area's oldest continually operating playhouse, kicks off its season with A. R. Gurney's pointed The Fourth Wall.

Originally written by the popular playwright during the first Gulf War presided over by George H.W. Bush, it has been adapted to the circumstances surrounding the current conflict spearheaded by George W. Bush. Tellingly, so little has changed that whatever script changes were made are invisible.

Photo of Scott MacLean (Floyd) and Edith Weiss (Peggy)
Scott MacLean (Floyd)
and Edith Weiss (Peggy)
Photo: Brian Miller
After listening to nightly newscasts leading up to and continuing throughout the running battle in Iraq, an unassuming American woman (Peggy) decides to salvage her emotional health by rearranging her living room. She does this by turning all her furniture to face a blank wall, thus transforming what had appeared to be a normal living room into a stage set facing the audience, and what had been her blank wall into the imaginary fourth wall that separates actors and audience.

Photo of Paul Dunne (Roger) and Rhonda Lee Brown (Julia)
Paul Dunne (Roger) and
Rhonda Lee Brown (Julia)
Photo: Brian Miller
This departure from conventional home life motivates her husband (Roger) to invite an interior designer (Julia) and a professor of theatre (Floyd) to help him straighten out his wife's compound psychological, political, and dramatic domestic statement.

Comedic veteran Edith Weiss brings just the right touch of zaniness to Peggy, a disarming ploy that gets us to consider her serious pleadings for more compassion in our personal and collective relationships. Apron in place, never fully losing the trappings of normalcy, Weiss leads us on a surreal journey through the fourth wall, to a world that holds the hope of something better than the war-based one she is now being asked to accept.

Paul Dunne plays the level-headed Roger, a sharply dressed, intelligent businessman who yearns for an uncomplicated, apolitical life in the suburbs. Despite his conservative leanings, Donne's Roger is genial and patient, trying hard to understand Peggy's concerns.

Sophisticated and attractive Julia, brought to larger-than-life fulfillment by Rhonda Lee Brown, quickly turns old friend Roger's well-intentioned invitation into a romantic challenge. We share in Brown's fun as she amplifies her affectations to highlight the theatrical shift created by the fourth wall, and again as she resumes a naturalistic acting style when the story's dynamics shift. Her nonchalance in proposing that Roger have Peggy locked up—"like Blanche Dubois," to create a riveting scene—takes the cake.

Caught between Peggy's fear of government plots and Julia's romantic plot lines, Roger is initially relieved when Floyd shows up to help him find a sensible dramatic solution to this plight. But Floyd is mesmerized by the fourth wall, and quickly validates Peggy's creation as both psychologically and dramatically significant.

Scott MacLean brings a self-possessed, feline quality to Floyd, carefully examining and then taking control of his surroundings. McLean meets the challenge of making Floyd a gay artist, a Don Juan, and a credible academic, and shares a particularly fun scene with Brown in which Floyd and Julia explore some startling coincidences in their lives.

Directed by Billie McBride, the long one-act (1 hours) moves quickly, despite occasional esoteric digressions in the script, and is topped off by Brian Miller's marvelous lighting effect that bridges the gap between where we find ourselves today and where we could go if, like Peggy, we are willing to break the fourth wall and make a connection with those who inhabit the world beyond our own limited space.

The Nomad Theatre's production of The Fourth Wall runs through November 7th. 303-774-4037.

Bob Bows

 

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