Characterization Via The Fourth Wall
Who They Are Based On How They Acknowledge The Audience
For a variety of reasons, Next Actâ€™s new show the Value of Names has been a lot of fun to think about over the course of the next day. One of the more subtle aspects of the show that wonâ€™t make it into my print review this coming week is the productionâ€™s rather interesting use of the fourth wall for characterization . . .
Written by Jeffrey Sweet, the play features three different characters:
Norma Silverman: Chicago-based actress Kelsey Brennan plays a struggling, young actress who has just landed a potentially big role in a play. Sheâ€™s the daughter of a very prominent actor who was blacklisted in the â€˜50â€™s by the House Un-American Activities Committee. On numerous occasions, Jeffrey Sweet allows Norma the opportunity to provide a little background narration by directly addressing the audience. An impressive emerging talent herself, Brennan delivers the bits of monologue directly to the audience in a clean, professional mannerâ€”perfectly in line with the stage presence of a character who is an actress attempting to establish herself.
Benny Silverman: Talented longtime Milwaukee actor Robert Spencer plays Normaâ€™s fatherâ€”the aforementioned blacklisted actor who has nonetheless managed to become quite successful over the years. A man who has crafted an identity for himself onstage over the years, Benny has sort of a lived-in stage presence about him. The entire play is set on his back patio in Malibu and Spencer looks very casual and very comfortable as Silvermanâ€”quite often looking beyond the audience to paint the hills. Benny is an affable guy who doesnâ€™t mind relating to the audience every now and then, but itâ€™s usually in response to something Norma is telling them. His relationship to the third wall feels friendly and casual. Heâ€™s clearly at ease around a large group of people. This is clearly a man who has spent his life entertaining people. Itâ€™s a fun performance.
Leo Greshen: Veteran actor John Kishline plays the man who named Benny before HUACâ€”effectively killing his career for years. Greshen went on to become a rather successful filmmaker who evidently still occasionally directs a play or two. He has been called-in as a replacement for the director in charge of the play Norma is appearing in, resulting in the inevitable confrontation between him and Benny. Kishline plays the role with polish and poise . . . he never directly addresses the third wall the way Norma (or even Benny) does, but he seems to know itâ€™s there. Kishlineâ€™s big success in this role is bringing across the personality of an intellectual politician. Any successful filmmaker who has managed to carve a career for him or herself in Hollywood is, at the heart of things, a really successful politicianâ€”someone who can cleverly negotiate relations between producers, techies and creative types . . . and Kishline does a really good job of bringing that kind of personality to the stage here. He knows heâ€™s onstage and to a certain extent he knows heâ€™s still on trial for what he did before . . . but he never directly acknowledges that thereâ€™s an audience.
Next Act Theatreâ€™s The Value Of Names runs through May 2nd, 2010. A full review of the play runs in this weekâ€™s Shepherd-Express.