FRONT ROW CENTER
By Cindy Paul
The Fourth Wall
By A.R. Gurney
Directed by Mike Niederman and Ann Clegg

     The Lakeside Little Theatre has offered up some distinctive fare this season. Its audiences are like most audiences, with varying tastes and comfort zones. If a play is too offbeat for some, others will love it and appreciate being entertained by some-thing different.
     So it was with A.R. Gurney’s The Fourth Wall. About half the play is a genre of comedy labeled “Screwball Comedy” in America’s motion picture industry during the 1940s. Pratfalls and in-jokes mix with the avant-garde alternating in a pointed, facile manner so that nutty slapstick and Noel Coward-esque bon mots twiddle around each other like ribbons on a May pole. The ever-present foundation of the show is the actual fourth wall itself, the empty space between the audience and the players, which the lady of the onstage house believes can be breached. By the last scene the viewer has no doubt as to what Gurney was getting at, especially when the actors physically bust through the wall and into the auditorium at large.
     The most noticeable facet of this production, and without question most irritating to some, was the breakneck speed of delivery, so rapid-fire that it would exhaust even the heartiest dialog-lover. This was no mistake, however, and the effect was to seize the unwitting audience by the lapels and drag them, kicking and struggling, into the play itself, thereby accomplishing the fourth wall-breaching goal in the first few scenes! People left for intermission dazed and reeling, but smiling.
     Local professionals Mike Nieder-man and Ann Clegg not only took on two of the four demanding roles, but directed the play as well, and splendidly. Every second of the show was carefully planned and executed; for never a single moment did the viewer feel as if this wacky play, with its machine-gun conversations, emerged even slightly different from the directors’aim. Good, lively blocking, all the high-quality technical aspects, and especially the difficult pacing were attended to with a confidence and understanding that is rare in any community theater, anywhere.
     The cast pulled off a Herculean effort with flair and intelligence. Long monologs tripped easily off their tongues, even at twice the normal pace. Thrice as many gesture and blocking cues and athletic choreography came off looking easy as pie and twice as natural. With a profound understanding of the underlying themes of real vs. unreal, they sashayed in and out of them so gracefully that we began to understand, too. Bravo, one and all.
     Georgette Richmond, always a presence to be reckoned with, gave the performance of her lifetime in what must have been a hugely challenging and satisfying role. Her forte is comedy, and her timing is superb.
     Russell Mack, a relative newcomer, has been snapped up by the LLT, and rightly so. His clear delivery, plus an easy-going, believable manner onstage are the essence of a wonderfully entertaining actor.
     Ann Clegg, in her element, played the lady of the house who so wants to breach the division between the stage and the audience, between the real and the unreal. And breach she did, on all levels. Perfect acting, perfect voice.
     Mike Niederman turned in an energetic, crystal-clear performance. Here is a smart actor whose smooth polish and gorgeous voice are exactly what the author must have envisioned. His interpretation of “After You” was a favorite.
     Ray Himmelman and Jayne Littlejohn, played two small walk-ons, this time not thankless. Talented pianist Joyce McNulty accompanied the cast when they were moved to break into song, and did such a good job we are sure to hear her again.
     A tour de force in directing and acting, this show marks a milestone for LLT, shattering limits in every direction. The bar has been raised, and we can only benefit from it.