For a while, the Garage Theatre looked certain to join the long, decades-old casualty list of local independent companies that started out promisingly, built a short, colorful history, then curled up and died—in its case, for lack of a space.
Founding members birthed it in 1996 in a tiny Costa Mesa garage—hence the name—then after a several-years hibernation, the troupe shuttled various productions around Long Beach (everything from kiddie plays to Eric Bogosian), along the way earning several OC Weekly theater-award nominations for their 2002 staging of Goose and Tomtom.
And not much has happened since, mostly because they've lacked a permanent home. Now, they have one at last, the tiny Seventh Street storefront space previously occupied by the Found Theatre, which moved to new digs a block away in downtown Long Beach.
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The Garage's plan is to eventually make it a home for original work; but for their debut in the new locale, they're going with A.R. Gurney's The Fourth Wall, which may not have been the smartest move. Wall is a messy piece—it's a relationship comedy, a musical, a political manifest and a gratuitously self-referencing, Charlie Kaufman-esque play-about-a-play-within-a-play. The main idea here is that Peggy (Kim Bush), a suburban wife, is obsessed with what's on the other side of a blank wall in her house—in this case, the "wall" that faces the audience. Much hilarity ensues!
Or doesn't. Though there are some funny lines, we suppose Gurney's ultimate aim here was to make a statement about breaching the divide between truth and fiction (and, to a smaller degree, the barrier between male-female relationships), but it doesn't work and instead comes across as a bunch of ideas with nowhere to land. The wink-wink dialogue delivered by characters who know they're in a play are eye-rolling ("Have you noticed that since we came in here, we've been talking in a stagey sort of way?"); the topical script—originally penned to prick the George Bush I regime, since rewritten by Gurney to jab George II—isn't much more than casual Ashcroft/Rumsfeld name-droppings and a pretentious speech Peggy gives at the end that rails against pollution, capitalism and war; and when the fourth "wall" is finally breached—which you know will happen going in—the moment is anticlimactic, mostly just characters ooh-ing and aah-ing all over themselves.
Like a Kaufman script, The Fourth Wall tries too hard to be clever at the expense of involving storytelling. The best thing we can say about the thing is . . . well, the Garage Theatre finally has a new space.
THE FOURTH WALL AT THE GARAGE THEATRE, 251 E. SEVENTH ST., LONG BEACH, (562) 433-8337. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH FEB. 27. $12-$15.