Breaking The Fourth Wall

Photo courtesy of Brandon Missig.
Photo courtesy of Brandon Missig.
Photo courtesy of Brandon Missig.

You shouldn’t doubt what a group of talented people can accomplish in 24 hours.

Twenty-four Hour Theater, a derivative of the New Paltz Players, an organization that provides a forum for collaborative theater projects on campus, is a unique theatrical experience where artists write, cast, design and rehearse a twenty minute show in the span of 24 hours. The show is then performed for one night only in what can poetically be described as a cosmic explosion of creativity, gone as quickly as it arrived.

Held in Crispell Hall on Saturday, Oct. 26, this semester’s performance, “Sitcom’d,” was directed by second-year political science and theater double-major Brandon Missig and stage managed by third-year history and theater double-major Sara Lyons.

The production featured fourth-year English and theater double-major Jade Asta Quinn, second-year theater major Ryan Christopher Thomas, third-year theater major Brielle Cari, third-year media and communications major Kevin Fagan, second-year theater major Spencer Cohen, and second-year theater major Kalia Lay.

With the exception of Fagan and Lyons, the cast and director served as the writers of the show as well.

It begins as a cliché-filled ‘90s sitcom parody, “Pals.”

Let me explain: the show starts as a show inside a show, with one being a sort of parody of other shows.

Confused yet? Well I’m (not) sorry to say that things are going to get a whole lot more metaphysical.

Complete with ‘90s era attire – flannel jackets, band T-shirts, Converse, etc. – as well as the use of a laugh track, scene transfer music and “Balto” references, the cast does an excellent job of convincing the audience that they are binge-watching episode after episode of whatever cookie-cutter sitcom happens to be on.

The accuracy with which the cast captured the feel of the genre in their writing and acting leads me to believe that they indulged in some of the previously mentioned ‘90s-themed cliches.

The first five minutes has “the gang,” as I like to refer to sitcom character groups, engaging in your typical ‘90s situational comedy.

However, after a box containing scripts of the gang’s lives (read as episode scripts), the fourth wall shatters and the show becomes self-aware, leading to the emotional breakdown of the characters.

This breakdown causes the network executive (cleverly placed offstage in the audience) to pause the show and inform the viewers that it has been canceled.

When the “show” starts again, the characters experience a sinking desperate feeling they realize to be their cancellation. The characters turn on one another, attacking each other’s archetypes and point out each other’s one-dimensionality.

Then, in a brilliant moment of cable TV reconciliation, the cast performs a flashback montage of “episodes” as they come together in beautiful sitcom finale fashion.

That is, until, they realize their writers are trying to wrap up the show and in an act of rebellious protest, destroy their writers’ scripts, hoping to create their own destiny.

This leads to them losing the ability to speak from a lack of lines, until the clicking of a keyboard writes them all an epilogue where they, accepting their fate, fade to cheesy sitcom guitar.

“Sitcom’d: A 24 Hour Theater Production” is honestly one of the cleverest and creative deconstructions I’ve seen in a long while. The writing is superb, and all the jokes are on point for anyone who has watched a season or two of “Seinfeld.”

The show also manages to touch on a bit of existential realism and the feeling of insignificance that comes with it – something I wasn’t expecting to feel going in. The performances themselves were delivered greatly, but with only twenty minutes, it seemed unfair to form any sort of judgment. If this is the kind of material we can expect from this group, you can bet I’ll be in the audience next semester.