The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide is a play written by All Our Tragic adaptor Sean Graney and produced by The Hypocrites in special collaboration with The Yard at Senn Arts Magnet High School. Between All Our Tragic and this, though wildly different at first glance (the former a 12-hour adaptation of Greek tragedies, the latter an original play about a group of children reenacting a play a fellow classmate left behind as a suicide note), Graney demonstrates an unmistakable talent for combining comedy and tragedy in a way that is both thoroughly entertaining and deeply moving. Although the actors are high school students, and the characters are fourth graders, this play is in many ways not a story about children. It’s an almost Shakespearean tale of love gone wrong, corruption, jealousy, revenge, and suicide – told in the format of a presentation given by nine-year-olds. And in Graney’s talented hands, directed by Joel Ewing and Mechelle Moe, it works. It’s fresh and funny, yet it speaks to something deeper. It touches on lost innocence, bullying, self-image issues.
There’s a love quadrilateral of sorts – spoiled, perfect Sally (Olivia Shine) breaks up with bully Mike Rice (Brian Baren) in order to pressure Johnny (Justin Burns) into dating her. Johnny, however, likes Rachel (Hunter Dunn), who thinks herself unworthy of him.The cast is rounded out by Heather Lauritzen as Lucy Law, an overeager little girl who wants to give up the pressure of her position as hall monitor in order to be one with the people, Jauhara Sanders as Sally’s best friend/minion Brenda (and her little hook finger, “argh!,” and pirate dance is hilarious), and husky-voiced Cleo Shine singing in the background.
There’s something a little heartbreaking to each of the children. Mike Rice seems to have an utter lack of empathy, and then there’s a moment where he confesses to acting mean so that, if people are nice to him, he knows it’s because they like him. It’s completely misguided, but it still gives him a little more depth. Rachel, despite being slender, thinks herself fat and ugly and therefore unworthy of Johnny’s like, which is particularly distressing given that she is supposed to be only nine.
The children have a deliberately stylized way of moving, hinting at being young children acting in a presentation, accompanied by a near lack of contractions and young phrases (such as the use of “like like” to indicate more than friendly liking). Despite the fact that I generally am not a fan of older people playing young children, it’s spot-on in this play. There’s a scene where Johnny complains about his juice box being warm. Rachel tells him to think about whether he wants a cold juice box more than he wants to have one at all – and if he wants a warm juice box more than none at all, to stop complaining. And despite being about properly refrigerated juice boxes in the play, it’s a message that is applicable to other aspects of life.
Poignant, entertaining, and memorable,The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide reminds me why I go to the theatre.
October 30 – November 8, 2015
By Sean Graney, Co-Directed by Joel Ewing and Mechelle Moe.
John Wilson (scenic), Heather Gilbert (co-lights), Rachel Levy (co-lights), Kevin O’Donnell (sound), Danielle Case (properties), Joel Ewing and Mechelle Moe (costumes), Dana Murphy (choreography), Max Fabian (fights), Dina Klahn (stage manager), and Pat Fries (production manager)