I’m Afraid This Fourth Wall Needs To Come Down

By:
brozik@gmail.com
@spidermensch

I’m no playwright, of course — that’s your job, and I have no reason to think you’re not good at it — but I am an engineer, and although you might not be happy to hear this, after giving your latest work a thorough inspection, I’m convinced that the fourth wall needs to come down. Not necessarily right away, but at some point for sure. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out when would be best. Maybe Act Two?)

Now, before you write me off as some kind of crackpot (with professional membership in the American Society of Safety Architects): I know that the fourth wall is not a real wall. I understand that “fourth wall” is rather a term of art referring to the imaginary barrier at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theater (such as you are employing for your production) through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a hazard to life and limb if it were to topple unexpectedly. Even an imaginary wall needs to be structurally sound.

Your fourth wall, unfortunately, seems to have been the target of some significant thespian mastication, if you get my meaning. Has one of your actors been chewing the scenery (and putting everyone in danger)? I’m no theater critic, of course, but if I had to point a finger I might point it at that young actor playing the man who wakes up one morning as a huge termite, then makes numerous attempts to explain his transformation to the others by way of interpretive dances, extemporaneous haiku and very loud soliloquies. (Being that this actor is likely responsible, it might make sense for his character to be the one to break the fourth wall, but that could, on the other hand, prove too metafictional for comfort. So maybe the telephone lineman can do it — when he appears “outside” the window? He could say, “Well, this rings a bell!” — referring to the arrival of the hunchbacked milkman — then wink at the audience?)

Again, you’re the dramatist, but keep in mind that however you choose to have the fourth wall broken, it will need to be broken completely — so that when it comes back up, nothing of the old, compromised wall remains. You want a brand new wall to go up, for the well-being of all involved. When the itinerant meteorologist remarks “Looks like…hail” and then gives a Nazi salute, maybe he could high-five someone in the front row? Or when the lazy-eyed cobbler is hissing “Shoo! Shoo!” at the giant man-termite, could he actually take off one of his shoes and throw it at the audience? That would decisively break the fourth wall, don’t you think? But you might have your own ideas about how to do it.

At any rate, I’ve left my full written report in the theater manager’s office. I wanted to tell you in person, though, because I didn’t want you to think I was just making work for you without considering the consequences or offering some suggestions, such as having the cross-dressing conjuror reach into his hat and pull out the wallet of a member of the audience — in this case maybe someone not near the stage — read the name on the driver’s license, remove the cash, put the wallet back into his hat, and finally have it reappear in the audience member’s pocket. I’d pay to see that at least twice.

Oh, and one more thing: I couldn’t help also noticing during my inspection a pistol hanging on the back wall. That isn’t loaded, is it? You really shouldn’t keep a loaded pistol hanging around. Sometimes those things just go off. But now that I’m thinking about it…you could have someone use the gun to shoot out the fourth wall. I’d do that in Act Three.

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