nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 24, 2010
The concept at the heart of Christopher Heath's play Four Quarters is fascinating. There are two characters in Heath's story, each of whom is portrayed by two actors—a man and a woman. So Four Quarters is a love story between Jo/Joe and Terri/Terry, two halves of two individuals searching for their soulmates.
The play begins with all four of the "quarters"—that is, Jo and Joe and Terri and Terry—in bed together. It takes just a few moments to get your bearings, but once you do you understand that each of the pairings function together to make a "whole" person. After that, Heath alternates between scenes where we observe the internal dialogues of one of his characters—Jo talking to Joe, Terry talking to Terri—and scenes where the two people interact in various combinations of themselves.
The play is funny at times, but mostly it's a pretty serious examination of what you have to do and what you have to give up in order to achieve the "one-ness" that comes with creating a strong bond with the person you love. I don't want to give away what happens in Four Quarters, but Heath's characters definitely run the gamut from the elation of initial infatuation to the depth of a tender and true passion.
What's missing for me in the script is a clear demarcation between the two halves of each individual. Maybe I wasn't supposed to, but I kept trying to understand what each part of Jo/Joe and Terri/Terry represented. Is one of these the public face, while the other is the private? Is one the masculine side and the other the feminine? I never put together a consistent picture of how the halves operate, which ultimately made some parts of the piece feel random.
But there's a brilliant aspect to Heath's conception that I really loved, and that's the fluidity of gender that runs throughout the play. Each of the possible pairings of Jo(e)s and Terri/y(s) is seen as the "actual" one; we never know if this is an opposite- or same-sex couple. Heath's point is that it doesn't matter—love is love, regardless of sexuality. That's a powerful and important idea.
Heath has staged Four Quarters with simplicity, though it could probably be even simpler: Mark Jeter's lighting, used mostly to signal transitions in which different halves of the characters come and go, is often more distracting than it is helpful. The four actors—Omer Barnea and Tamar Pelzig as Terry and Terri, Margo Brooke Pellmar and Solomon Shiv as Jo and Joe—are likable and empathetic.
All in all, this is an intriguing offering at the FRIGID New York Festival. Heath originally presented the play several years ago; I wonder if he's still developing it. If so, I think some expansion of the idea beyond the relatively brief one hour of this version might be in order. This is a striking and original idea that deserves further exploration.