Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide

Photo/Heather Clark

South Park gets away with its fourth-grade antics because it's an animated comedy. Sean Graney's play, The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide, has a harder go of it, since the adult actors are so obviously not nine years old. The contrived introduction, in which the fourth graders introduce the play within the play they're about to perform (a suicide note of a drama left behind by their friend, Johnny), makes things worse, as the actors play characters who will soon be playing characters, but they're assisted by Graney's quaint kid-speak ("I am over with him" signifies a break up; an argument is a "shouting-at") and Devin Brain's confident, Lynch-like direction. Things start simply, with Johnny (Joseph Binder) crushing on Rachel (Jennifer Grace) and fretting about a warm juice box, but they slowly grow more adult (and therefore tragic): popular Sally (Stacy Stoltz) forces Johnny to date her, even though this enrages her ex, the bullying Mike Rice (Tim Simons), and it isn't long before there's a balletic death scene between two animal-masked children (industrial strength glue is toxic, go figure!), a suicide ala rat poison, and a magical moment with a gun that leaves a pool of ketchup in its wake. Given this ending, the awkward moments (like a singer who hovers ominously on stage) help the show more than hurt, but it's perhaps just a little too disaffecting.

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