FOUR, About Face Theatre. Christopher Shinn's Four, being given its U.S. premiere by the ambitious About Face Theatre, is a creepy, cryptic slice of lifelessness. Written in the verisimilitudinous style of screenwriter-director Mike Leigh, it follows two mismatched, emotionally inert couples stumbling through a long Fourth of July evening. Middle-aged black college professor Joe hooks up with white 16-year-old virgin June after an Internet chat, while Joe's psychologically traumatized daughter, Abigayle, flees the home of her terminally ill mother to cling wordlessly to her wigger boyfriend Dexter. Both couples wander aimlessly all night, unable to generate any but the most painfully stilted conversation until they collapse into desperate sexual couplings.
Shinn seems to want to dissect American sexual and racial politics, but most of his analysis is maddeningly peripheral. Joe mentions in a brief phone call to his daughter, for example, that being a black academic makes him an object of fear and mistrust, but Shinn never pursues the subject. The characters seem more thwarted by a simple inability to communicate than they are by the societal forces Shinn mentions, mostly in passing.
Eric Rosen directs with solemn assurance, offering a clean, exacting production that may lack humor and color, proceeding with the kind of brooding portentousness that gives every moment a uniform gravity, but doesn't shy away from the unrelenting anguish at the core of Shinn's vision, making for a truly disturbing evening.