Theatre J's The Four of Us

The Four of Us, currently playing at Theatre J, tracks the ups and downs of approximately ten years in the friendship of David (Karl Miller) and Ben (Dan Crane). It’s about a bromance, if you will. And any bromance including Karl Miller is one that I will gladly sit for 90 minutes to watch.

Playwright Itamar Moses (who has the coolest name appearing on this blog since Lex Shrapnel) wrote this play from his own life experience. David and Ben meet at a musicians’ camp as teenagers. They become fast friends, and keep in touch despite the distance between them. They both abandon music to become writers, David a playwright, and Ben a novelist. Ben hits it big very young, selling his first novel for an obscene about of money. And Ben has to deal with jealousy and the effect envy and success have on their friendship.

The play will remind you of plays you’ve seen before. I felt strong echoes of Sight Unseen (non-linear structure, focus on where an artist came from and where he goes, loss of innocence), among other works, but Itamar Moses manages to keep the play from ever feeling derivative. The script meanders before settling in for the end, but this is both a strength and a weakness, as it allows you to be surprised along the way.

At first I was worried the play was going to be another treatise on the dangers of success to an artist. Selling out and losing your soul and all that. Fortunately the play moves on and into more interesting territory as it becomes clear that the focus of the play is David and not Ben. The casting of Karl Miller certainly helps this, as he manages to subtly convey all the subtext though his voice and body. At times you feel like you can read the thoughts behind his eyes. So then as the play continues you think, a ha!, it’s not about the danger of success to an artist, no it’s turning that on it’s head, it’s about the danger of failure, the corruption of bitterness. Which would be a fascinating turn, and a play I would like to see, but ultimately The Four of Us veers away from that as well. Then it runs off into meta-theatre world, a dangerous place for anyone who’s not Pirandello, but Moses makes it work, and in clever ways.

But ultimately what this play is about is the friendship. The bromance. The baffling quality of the human condition that allows us to need another person, to be very, very close to that other person, and still feel completely isolated and alone. The playwright makes this clear in the penultimate scene. At intermission I had remarked that I felt it was obvious who the playwright was because as a character you understood David so much more than Ben. Ben didn’t seem completely there; I found him enigmatic. But by the end of the play I had learned that that was the point. We’re not supposed to fully get Ben, because David doesn’t fully get him, because we don’t fully get our own friends. The person you feel closest to in the world can surprise you, can shock you, can change.

Through February 21
3 stars


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