The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide, Side Studio. Sean Graney’s sly miniature send-up of Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding during last year’s Sketchbook festival demonstrated his deftness at making somber classic material funny. But even that didn’t prepare me for his latest offering, a comically sober “school pageant” based on a tragedy by 18th-century Japanese dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon.
According to the program note, playwright Graney (artistic director of the Hypocrites) originally wanted to cast fourth graders, then realized that not many parents would want their children to enact a violent, heartrending tale of prepubescent love, betrayal, and revenge. Fortunately director-designer Jimmy McDermott has found adult actors capable of capturing, sans cloying affectations, the awkwardness and guilelessness of ten-year-olds. The result is a taut, engaging 50-minute show that sifts the agonies of childhood (among them, poor body image and bullies of both sexes) through the filter of Chikamatsu’s stylistic choices.
Jon Krajecki, playing the lead actor in the pageant, portrays a heartsick boy driven from his true love (an endearing Jennifer Grace) by the nasty machinations of the fifth-grade muckety-mucks. (In keeping with Chikamatsu’s tradition of drawing on scandalous contemporary events, we’re informed that the boy committed suicide after writing the play.) The close quarters of the Side Studio–which McDermott deftly transforms into a garish orange lunchroom–make it difficult to look away from this smart, idiosyncratic, affecting show. But with performances this assured, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to.