This is a sweet play. A sweet, sweet play. That sounds gushy, but there is not another way to describe it. Two boys meet at music camp the summer before they go to college. They pledge friendship, and by God, they mean it.
We watch them stumble through romantic relationships, career moves, success borne of failure and failure borne of success. What happens when one person achieves success after working hard and long for it, and the other is still thinking about what he really wants to do? Timing is everything, and for this duo opportunity has assigned them seats on opposite ends of some whirling amusement park ride.
Benjamin has a book deal with film rights attached. He is hurled into a world he does not know or care much about, much to the frustration of David who, as a playwright, has the entertainment Rolodex embedded in his brain. Benjamin is a plodder and David is a dreamer – at camp, at college, in Europe, at lunch.
The play vaults back and forth in time much like a novel. And the reason it is sweet is that these two men are joined at the mouth. They talk. They talk and argue and imagine. They challenge and defend. They wrestle each other to the mat with verbal thrusts and parries. They discuss and despair. Their friendship flourishes and falters, fails and flickers. It’s a little like life, only tidier.
In the final scenes, playwright Itamar Moses spins us around and tosses us into a play outside the play, a sleight-of-hand that works completely. Turns out each writer has been using the other as subject matter. And the one ironic bit of dialogue that occurs there is when each says his readers thought the other guy was gay.
Which is what we have been thinking all along. According to the writing, both men are straight. Their performances might have you second-guess that, which may be the writer’s intention.
After all, The Four of Us is about two of them.
THE FOUR OF US
By Itamar Moses; directed by Pam MacKinnon
WITH: Gideon Banner (Benjamin) and Michael Esper (David).
Sets and costumes by David Zinn; lighting by Russell H. Champa; sound by Daniel Baker
Presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club. At City Center, Stage II, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan; (212) 581-1212. Through May 11. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.