Presented by and at Primary Stages, casting by Stephanie Klapper, 354 W. 45 St., NYC, Nov. 13-Dec. 22.
Since A. R. Gurney is almost a prototype of the veteran playwright who writes a well-fashioned play with a spine and characters, it's puzzling that "The Fourth Wall" is lacking in both these categories.
Gurney's play is about people who live a cloistered suburban existence devoid of feeling. Peggy, a passionate liberal who feels the need to connect with others, accordingly decides to create a bare wall in her house, hypothesizing that there may be people out there beyond the wall that ought to be addressed in some way. This perplexes her self-involved husband, Roger, who appears prone to transgression, and Julia, an even more self-involved friend, who seems somewhat perpetually sexual.
In addition to provoking some thought on the positive effect of audience on one's lifestyle, this creates a scenario for quite a few theatre in-jokes, since the characters comment on how this wall essentially creates a stage in their home. In fact, it's a lovely conceit, and Gurney is certainly able to deliver on Shavian jokes that keep the play moving. But Gurney would have been much better off had he actually created characters here. We do not know anything about Peggy, really, aside from the fact that she is unhappy. Roger and Julia are also extremely underdeveloped, and written in a far too over-the-top manner besides. The result is a play that is as thin as tissue paper, and which feels too long even though it only lasts about 75 minutes.
David Saint's cast does a marvelous job with the humor, but could perhaps have worked a bit more on grounding the play. Sandy Duncan is charming, as ever, as Peggy. Charles Kimbrough, as Roger, is funny, but perhaps a bit too goofy, and Susan Sullivan is simply radiant and hilarious as Julia. David Pittu was able but not especially memorable as Floyd, a theatre professor called in for consultation from a nearby college.