Gurney's lesser produced `Fourth Wall' takes center stage at Oldcastle

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BENNINGTON, Vt. - Artistic director Eric Peterson likes to say that Oldcastle Theatre Company holds the professional stage record for having produced the most plays by the late A.R. ("Pete") Gurney, who died last year after a prolific, award-winning career.

The venerable Vermont theater company will get a chance to add to that number on Tuesday, Aug. 10, when it opens one of Gurney's lesser produced plays, "The Fourth Wall," directed by Tim Howard. The show will run through Aug. 19.

"We've done so many Gurney shows that I lost count, thinking this one was number 10," Peterson said. "In fact, it's the ninth. And it's cleverly funny, a story that fits in well not only with our current political situation, but really is timeless. We wanted that to be a hallmark of our entire season."

The play's title refers to what is known in the theater as the fourth wall, or the imaginary wall between the actors on stage and the audience.

The story finds that Peggy (Amy Hayes) has redecorated her living room and hubby, Roger (Peter Langstaff), hates it. Peggy's typically superb taste oddly failed, and she redid the room as if it were a stage set. Everything faces one way, toward the fourth wall.

Unable to deal and needing moral support, Roger asks old friend, Julia (Sarah Corey), to fly in from New York. Something strange is afoot, especially while everyone behaves like they're acting in a play, or even a musical when someone sings a Cole Porter song. Floyd (Jeremy Ellison-Gladstone), a local theater professor, is called in to address the issue, adding to the fun.

Corey, who has acted in several past Oldcastle productions and has fast become an audience favorite, said that it's always "good to be home."

"I love coming back to act at Oldcastle," Corey said. "It's great to be doing a show with Peter and Amy again. Tim [Howard] and Jeremy are fabulous and this play is keeping us laughing and on our toes."

The biggest challenge thus far, Corey continued, is how short a rehearsal process this play has, but she quickly added that Oldcastle "always gets there." She also said that the play's characters have given the actors excellent material with which to work.

"I haven't quite decided what my most fun moment is yet," Corey said. "It's all pretty delectable. Julia has a pretty indulgent song and a farcical seduction scene, but I can't give everything up before the opener."

Actor Peter Langstaff, who has a longtime loyal following among regional theatergoers, said that he relished taking on the role of Roger, who must think "the world is going mad."

"Roger feels himself to be the only somewhat serious person in the room, in the middle of three other very funny characters," Langstaff said. "This of course, adds to the humor, which is so well written by Gurney."

Langstaff added that the play includes a number of songs by Cole Porter, which, while not dominating the action, remain good barometers to the storyline.

"The music is all Cole Porter, songs that I was not familiar with but are really quite lovely," Langstaff said. "They come to reflect what is currently happening."

Director Howard, a Kennedy Center awardee, smiled at references to the music, having also been musical director in Oldcastle's hits from recent seasons, "Big River," and "Cabaret."

"My first Oldcastle show was in either 1989, or 1990, so this is like one of my homes, to come back here and work on a play," Howard said. "This show is fascinating and makes us laugh, yet pulls on so many different parts of theater and styles of theater. I love how Gurney gives clues throughout the script to make this a play within a play."

Howard went on to say he views the show as having a total of six characters. Four of them are the aforementioned roles.

"The fifth character is the fourth wall, and the sixth character is this grand piano on stage, a player piano with Cole Porter songs on it," Howard said. "So the ways the play incorporates the music are always different. The piano has a sort of mystical power which is sometimes in cahoots with the fourth wall."

Howard explained that the script comes from the play's 2002 revival, and while he considered tweaking some of the political subject matter to the present day, in the end Gurney's writing "leads everyone to where they can see they own lives and challenges in it, without having to call direct attention to today."

Corey agreed with her director, and as the group headed back to rehearsals, offered up her own wish for the show.

"I hope audiences laugh a lot, and maybe think a bit about the function of theater in society," Corey said. "It's important to consider what human connection means, how we can be better to ourselves and to each other, and what our ethical responsibilities as citizens are in the world community, especially in a turbulent political climate."




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