In Praise of Navel-gazing: Outcry Theatre’s “The Four of Us”

Benjamin explodes, “How could you write about me?”

David responds, hurt: “How could you not write about me?”

Do novelists and playwrights differ in approach to creating their art?  What happens when a long-term friendship develops around the writing, and pursuit of success becomes competition tinged green with envy? In Itamar Moses’ play “The Four of Us”, distinctive, rich and vibrant in language and metaphor, sparks fly. Outcry Theatre serves up an enticing production of Moses’ puzzling, probing navel-gazer  through Sunday June 17 at the Studio Space in Addison.

Presumably penned in homage to his longtime friendship with “Everything Is Illuminated” author Jonathan Safran Foer, Moses’ more clever than deep introspective drama explores the facets of a decade’s worth of a close relationship between needy, introverted playwright David and unflappably aloof, self-centered novelist Benjamin. Fragmented, almost snapshot style, Moses eliminates conventional linearity and fleshes out his characters through flashback vignettes. It’s as if the most current picture the audience sees of the two characters, maturing into their late 20’s, is a black and white line drawing, a silhouette; the shades and hues and nuances only fill in as time rolls backwards and catches them in earlier scenes. The permeable boundary between life and art blurs in a final thrilling, magical gyration as the audience gazes with delight into the play’s multi-faceted plot kaleidoscope whirl.

Earlier this year, Outcry Theatre, artistic dream project of husband/wife team Jason and Becca Johnson-Spinos, won Best of the Loop at the Studio Space in WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Festival with their acclaimed production of Carlos Murillo’s dark play or stories for boys. “The Four of Us” confirms that Outcry is a dynamic, bold creative team bringing a fresh, joyful dharma to the DFW thespian scene. Becca Johnson-Spinos’ direction, using every corner of a spare set, invigorates the Studio Space with well-developed stage pictures and character transitions that flow naturally while honoring the fragmented beats of the play. Jason Johnson-Spinos, as sound and projected visuals designer, creates a flowing series of Polaroid-style snapshots from casual moments in the two characters’ lives that project on an upstage screen throughout most of the performance, reflective of the fractured nature and of the often frozen intimacy of the relationship. Until the vibrant, surprise ending…sorry,  no spoiler clues given here. Cogently unified in concept and vision, Outcry Theatre’s team presents as polished a production of Moses’ quirky, unusual play as one might expect from longer established, better-funded companies in the region. This theatre endeavor truly entertains and illuminates, folks; treat yourselves and support an emerging company, what a gift.

Benjamin (Chris Ramirez) & David (Duc Nguyen), relax with a joint

Featured as David and Benjamin, DFW newcomers Duc Nguyen and Chris Ramirez inhabit their characters like seasoned pros and portray the easy familiarity of a long-term relationship with focus, skill and precision.  ON from the moment the lights come up (no easing into character after a few tentative lines for them), they convincingly layer on nuance and facet in every rapid-fire vignette, always present, always in balance or relational counterpoint, always real…yet they honor the specific art of the play impeccably, the playwright’s unconventional, complex, backwards-seeming character arcs. Navel-gazing is not inherently interesting. Nguyen and Ramirez’s distilled, carefully crafted performances stay crisp and edgy; they make the audience want to know what’s next, no matter the navels. And that final revelatory moment?  These gents make it well worth all that convoluted exposition.

Three more performances: catch it before it fades to black!

Friday, June 15 and Saturday June 16 @ 8pm; Sunday June 17 @ 2pm. 972-672-7222

At the Addison Theatre Centre 15650 Addison Road

Addison, Texas 75001 (next to WaterTower Theatre)

One thought on “In Praise of Navel-gazing: Outcry Theatre’s “The Four of Us”

  1. Pingback: Intersections of Stage Literature: North Texas Scene 2012 « Alexandra Bonifield

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