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4 B

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

It's always telling when the most influential member of a show's creative team is not mentioned in its program. At least, I was unable to find any credit for a sound designer in the program for 4 B at the Connelly Theatre. However, if I were the person primarily responsible for making a middling, unengaging show into an utterly unlistenable, unbearable mess, I'm not sure I would want to be identified, either.

It's not just that the show is loud, but that the sound produced by the onstage actors and musicians, is so poorly mixed that it's often simply not possible to determine what an actor is saying or singing. A conservative estimate is that half of everything the actors speak and three-quarters of what they sing is unintelligible, but judging from what can be understood, perhaps the anonymous sound designer was actually doing audiences a favor.

An attempted satirical recreation of a pirate radio station, 4 B is less a play than skit extended to play length (an often interminable 90 minutes). The cast members play nominal characters, some of which have names like Dr. Fix and Head Boy, but we never learn a thing about them, other than that their main goal is to always keep one step ahead of the oppressive Federal Communications Commission, which is planning to shut 4 B down as soon as it can be located.

The show, which was written and directed by Richard Caliban (also one of the show's musicians), contains simplistic comedy skits about presidential politics, dramatic recollections from alleged combat veterans, and even surprise appearances by a man claiming to be Brad Pitt, a major Midwest recording starlet, and a European glam rock queen who sings about all the young men she'd like to ravish. There's also enough ethereal caterwauling, psychedelic lighting (by Katie Gorum), and over-amplified percussion to push the show even further over the top.

There's not much the actors can do to rein in any of this, though the charismatic Justin Yorio - the sole performer not prone to screaming to communicate - is at least watchable, and brings some much-needed subtlety to the show. An often-utilized handheld digital camera allows video and projection designer John Pieza (who also appears in the show) some interesting opportunities for creating visual variety on the large display screen prominently fixed on Liam O'Brien's imposing steel-and-platform set. (Pieza also has devised a humorous start-of-show slide presentation that proves the evening's most memorable sequence.)

It must be noted that the performance I attended inspired a widely diverse audience reaction, from half a dozen walkouts to the raucous cheers of a handful of people that suggested the show is either capable of really connecting with some people, or that it utilizes more plants than the Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors. From my perspective, the play never gained much momentum until the final scene, when all the characters (for reasons too contrived to detail) were killed in quick succession.

Even so, this was not much of a development. 4 B never felt like it had much life to begin with.

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THiS Theatre Company
4 B
Through August 7
Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes with no intermission
Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street between Avenues A and B
Schedule and Tickets: 917.749.1928