BOTTOM LINE: An intriguing idea, yet one which could have been better developed.
Another (and perhaps more apt) title for Four Quarters might be Four Halves. Joe and Jo are two halves of one person. Terry and Teri are two halves of another. Joe/Jo and Terry/Teri meet and fall in love – their attempt to become “one whole” gives the play its name. It’s a clever conceit. And because Joe and Terry are played by men, and Jo and Teri are played by women, the “couple” that we see on stage moves fluidly between two men, two women, man and woman, and even occasionally a foursome. The “are they gay or straight?” question remains unanswerable. It’s extraordinarily refreshing to see a play that moves beyond traditional representations of sexuality, and Four Quarters does so in a way I have never seen.
However, Four Quarters doesn’t really expand beyond its initial conceit. We don’t ever get a clear sense of who these various “halves” are. Why does one scene show Jo and Teri, and another scene shows Joe and Terry? Why does Joe speak certain lines, and Jo speaks others? It all seems kind of random, as if the conceit were enough to sustain us for an hour. What is more, we never see any character development beyond “person 1” and “person 2” (and even these are only differentiated because one “person” gets sick). This is not the fault of the actors: all four are charismatic and fun to watch. But they are saddled with indistinct “roles” rather than specific characters, and as any actor can tell you, it is difficult to play a concept.
Design-wise, the costumes here are somewhat haphazard, and not even all that interesting. Actors occasionally change clothes for no apparent reason. And why do they wear bathing suits to go skydiving? It might seem churlish to complain about costumes in a bare-bones festival, but a more cohesive costume concept might have helped this play, giving each “half,” or even each “person,” a better sense of character. But the strangest element is the lighting design - with every cue, the lights flare up for a second before going out. This starts even before the house goes dark, to the point where I thought they were testing the lights (I heard the people behind me suggest this as well). And this device extends throughout the play. I mention this because it implies writer/director Christopher Heath may well have a more developed concept in his head. If he does, I hope he can figure out a way to better communicate this to his audience. The conceit itself is clever enough (but just barely) to keep our interest for an hour, yet its untapped potential makes Four Quarters all the more frustrating.
(Four Quarters plays at the Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th Street, through March 6, 2010. Performances are March 2 at 9 pm, March 4 at 7:30 pm, and March 6 at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $16 and can be purchased at smarttix.com. For more festival information visit frigidnewyork.info.)