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These Four Walls

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

In the theatre, eccentricity in small doses can be a good thing. But when things get too weird, when plots and relationships are nonsensically tangled to the point of dragging down the show, something is amiss. And something is amiss with These Four Walls.

The new show by Charlotte Meehan at Dixon Place does not lack creativity for a moment. There's an abundance of it on display in this intimate six character dark comedy. That deals with, among other things, the unusual deaths of children and what impact the dead still have on the living. Meehan points up her ideas with an appalling lack of clarity that, given the "anything goes" atmosphere of the show, almost seems to make more sense than if she had said things straight out.

In fact, there's something disturbingly pleasant in the off-kilter nature of These Four Walls. Once you accept that nothing you're going to see makes sense, and once you understand your role as an audience member is essentially to become another member of the asylum, you'll do fine. After a while, the effeminate father (Brian Quirk) who spends part of the show in a mechanic's jump suit and part in a gaudy prom dress, and the long-dead grandmother (Cam Kornman) who spits orange seeds and echoes her voice through the theater's sound system, almost seem to belong.

But with These Four Walls, it's a long, tiring journey to acceptance. There is no real break in the daffy happenings, no breathing room or glimpse of sanity to put the crazy happenings in the house in real perspective. Then again, given the way a real-life version of the situation unfolded - in the person of Andrea Yates, recently convicted of murdering her five children last year - perhaps it was unnecessary.

It might have made These Four Walls a less exhausting journey, however. It also might have made the few contemplative scenes that do approach more serious drama (most involving the mother, played by Christine Sang, giving the production's best performance) more effective. As such, it's difficult to sympathize much with the parents and their highly unorthodox methods of assuring their children entrance to heaven.

The children, played by Jason Lew and Kate Marks, do their best with their silly and occasionally bewildering material, and Dane Charbeneau as Marks's would-be prom date is appropriately awkward. David Hopkins's direction serves the script well, and Diane Fairchild's lighting is the best part of an otherwise effective, but unmemorable physical production.

But the sparseness of the physical production is almost part of the point, with its minimal set pieces and portrait frames suggesting a boundary between death and life. That boundary, like the one between the real and imaginary, the sane and the insane, is one These Four Walls has no problem crossing.

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These Four Walls
Through April 27
Dixon Place, 309 East 26th Street just east of 2nd Avenue
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 532-1546