As I pulled out of my parking space after “Foursquare,” the car ahead of me sported a bumper sticker that read, “Honk If You Don’t Exist.” Call me paranoid but I suspect the folks at Alleged Theatre Company are playful and perverse enough to have deliberately planted that car in front of me as part of their existential new play.
If it even is a play. Conceived in the mess-with-us spirit that the late David Foster Wallace brought to literature and Banksy brings to visual art, the brisk and funny “Foursquare” leaves us questioning whether we have just seen a play, what a play is, what the audience’s role is and what is the nature of the tacit agreement between players and playgoers. Is there even a difference? I mean, I know I wasn’t involved in rehearsals for “Foursquare” but I may have been the only person at the performance I attended who can say that.
According to the program, there are five actors. One is an assertive person identified as Coach, who wears a thick piece of chalk in her headband, almost like a holstered weapon she is fairly certain she’ll need to use. She explains the rules of the ball-bouncing game of foursquare, which the other performers play while chatting about jobs, competition and — in a bit of foreshadowing so blatant it should probably be spelled FORESHADOWING — existential writer Jean-Paul Sartre. They don’t know how long they’ve been playing and they’re not sure when they’ll quit, perhaps as a way of hinting that the game is a metaphor for life. More likely, it’s a way of making fun of us for thinking “Foursquare” is hinting that the game is a metaphor for life.
Soon, the actors become aware that others are present. “It’s an interesting idea, that we’re being watched by an audience,” says the suspiciously into-it Hugo, played by “Foursquare” co-writer Jake Mierva, who later blames director/co-writer Danylo Loutchko when things fall apart: “Danylo wrote this part of the play. He kind of wrote us into a corner.”
That’s when “Foursquare” encourages the audience to join it in questioning theater’s worth. Presumably, its creators value plays — “Foursquare” is one, after all — but they seem drawn to making theater that feels uncomfortable, maybe even dangerous.
I’m all for that. Heck, I was entertained by “Foursquare” but I wish it felt more dangerous and uncomfortable in blurring of the boundaries between audience and theatermakers. (The discomfort may increase as the run progresses — on opening night, the committed cast responded well to the challenge of performing for a very small audience.)
The play suggests what its creators think theater isn’t, which makes me curious to find out what they think it could be.