"Jacks and the Fourth Wall" transcends the stage with clever twists, passionate cast

Calling all students who groan at the sight of an English professor with a Shakespearean text in hand: You’re in a play.

“Jacks and the Fourth Wall” toys with the boundary between the uninterested student and the passionate English connoisseur and proves the potential for their connection through theater.

The play’s central cast of characters consists of a king, queen, princess, knight and fool. Playwright Alanna Smith ‘12 creates this cliché ménage only to shock the audience with the unexpected: the characters enter into our world.

“I wanted the audience to feel like part of the play,” Smith said.

Smith moved to New York City after graduating from Geneseo to pursue a career in writing. Earlier this year, she won first place in the Buffalo Young Writers’ competition for her 10-minute play, “Bright Shadows.”

The production of “Jacks and the Fourth Wall” proves to be yet another milestone in her career, as it is her first produced feature-length play.

The play opens with the fool, also known as Jacks, played by junior Brodie Guinan, being held at the neck by Sir Wallace, a dim-witted, brawny knight who constantly finds himself the target of Jacks’ clever insults. The altercation between Jacks and Sir Wallace, played by senior Zach Ellingham, is then broken by the words of graceful Princess Raina, played by s  ophomore Paige Gordon. It is revealed that this blonde-haired beauty is the object of Jacks’ affection and the doomed matrimonial partner of Wallace.

As the story builds, Guinan brings unrelenting enthusiasm to the role and transfers his energy to the audience through well thought out mannerisms and tones of voice.

Junior Taylor Walders, who signed on as director of the play last semester, said he had Guinan in mind to cast as Jacks from the beginning.

“We knew each other from school, and I was looking for his kind of energy and goofiness, just to keep things interesting,” Walders said.

And Guinan surely does “keep things interesting,” especially when his character passes through the Fourth Wall, or the invisible border between the play and its audience.

After coming into our world, Jacks interacts with Todd, a bored teenage audience member played by junior Joshua Feldhousen, who introduces him to advancements of modern times, such as cell phones and gum.

Soon, Jacks meets audience member Carol Jones, a dedicated English professor. Jones, played by sophomore Sarah Booker, works with Todd to set up the common classroom dynamic between an indifferent student and an avid teacher.

This relationship serves as a creative uniting factor of the show, whereby the student and teacher find common grounds through shared interest in theater. Jacks prompts this band to form; as problems arise in his onstage life, Todd and Carol often intervene to offer advice and analyses.

“I wanted to show that no matter who you are, the ideal theatergoer or not, you can get pulled into a play,” Smith said.

Still, the audience cannot interfere with the onstage chemistry. Sparks fly whenever Raina and Jacks meet. Viewers will feel the enchantment of their love as well as lament its heartbreak.

Though many of the actors have performed in past Geneseo productions, “Jacks and the Fourth Wall” is perhaps their most impromptu endeavor into dramatic entertainment yet.

Ellingham, who helps bring refreshing complexity to the otherwise classically one-sided role of a medieval knight, described his discovery of the play as an accident.

“[Walders] had been talking about Wallace with another student, and I overheard and said ‘A play? What play?’” Ellingham said.

In addition, Booker said the preparation is fast, since rehearsing has been limited to the month of September.

“[Walders] approached me for the role of Carol Jones last spring and gave us the summer to familiarize ourselves with our roles, which helped,” Booker said. “The rehearsing has been rushed but definitely fun and rewarding.”

Still, there is no hint of hurried production, as the actors have immersed themselves in their roles.

More standouts include King Rupert, played by sophomore Jeremy Jackson, and Queen Belinda, played by junior Erin Donovan, who brilliantly amuse with their depiction of a royal marriage.

Additionally, stage crew members are incorporated in the play. Senior Conrad Baker and junior Jacky Hellreich add to the comedy while simultaneously defying the standard rules of theater.

With elements of role reversal, unique spins on dramatic irony and delightful audience participation, “Jacks and the Fourth Wall” enjoyably destroys the stereotypes of classic theater, yet still garners appreciation for English − and all the hysterical drama that comes with it.

“Jacks and the Fourth Wall” runs Friday Sept. 27 and Saturday Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in Sturges Auditorium. Tickets are $2 and available at the door.