Stage Door Review

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds

Saturday, April 27, 2024


by James Fritz, directed by Mark McGrinder

Studio 180 Theatre, Tarragon Theatre Extraspace, Toronto

April 26-May 12, 2024

Di: “I don’t understand this impulse to share everything”

Studio 180 Theatre is presenting the North American premiere of Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, a play from 2014 by British playwright James Fritz. In his tightly plotted action Fritz examines how one act of a 17-year-old boy causes his seemingly ordinary suburban parents to lose their moral compasses. Taut direction and a top-notch cast make this a gripping and thought-provoking 80 minutes.

The play is structured as a series of increasing disturbing revelations. Middle-aged parents David and Diane live in Scarborough (West Croydon in the original) with their only child Jack. One day Diane discovers a shirt of Jack’s covered in blood. David tells Diane that Jack had a nosebleed. Diane says Jack doesn’t have nosebleeds and wants to know the real story. Was Jack in a fight? David has to admit that Jack was in a fight with local kids who beat up Jack because he attends a posh school. When Diane wants to phone the school, David has to admit that the attack did not happen on school grounds and that Jack knew his attackers. When Diane hears that the attacker was Jason (Ian in the original), Diane insists on calling Jason or the police. David tries to calm Diane down by saying that the altercation was just a teen matter. Jason hit Jack because Jason’s sister Cara and Jack had broken up.

And thus, as the play progresses, David is forced to release more and more information about the incident to keep Diane from taking any action, either by contacting Jason’s family or by going to the police. I don’t want to spoil the impact of a play that depends so heavily on the uncovering of further information which continually places the initial incident in a new light. But I do have to reveal a crucial point where David and Diane’s discussion leads. Cara has broken up with Jack because a video that Jack made of them having sex has somehow been uploaded to the internet. Cara is angry and ashamed and is accusing Jack of sexual assault. Cara’s brother is naturally angry at Jack for embarrassing his sister.

David and Diane are thunderstruck because Jack (who never appears) has only a month to go before he finishes school with stellar grades and is accepted into an important university. Their primary concern is that no stigma be attached to Jack preventing him from fulfilling their dream for his future. Unfortunately, a sex video online, the four minutes twelve seconds of the title, is not the worst aspect of the situation. There is much worse to come that causes both parents to doubt Jack and to doubt each other.

On the one level, Fritz’s play is a critique of the how technology has corrupted moral values when people lose the importance of a distinction between private and public. On another level, it is a critique of toxic masculinity that may show itself even in those who are young or weak-willed. On the deepest level, the play is a critique of contemporary morality in general and asks how much evil people (like Jack’s parents) can tolerate if they convince themselves it will lead to a greater good.

Director Mark McGrinder, the new Artistic Director of Studio 180, has drawn superlative performances from the entire cast. Central to the working of the entire play is the complex role of David. Sergio Di Zio is so perfect it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Di Zio makes David come across as an essentially weak person. All David’s admonitions to Diane not to contact Jason’s family or the police seem like simple attempts to avoid conflict. Di Zio is a master at infusing all his attempts to calm Diane down with such an undercurrent of fear that David’s reassurances of Diane do not reassure us at all. Di Zio gives David’s response to Diane’s accusations such a tone of sadness and pity we feel David’s world is collapsing. Di Zio’s David has almost convinced himself that all his claims of protecting Jack and Diane from harm have nothing to do with protecting himself.

It's a pleasure to see Megan Follows on stage again. She is ideal in the role of Diane. Even though David reminds Diane that she is prone to overreacting and even though this initially seems to be true, Follows projects a constant inner strength that Di Zio as David appropriately never does. While David would like to be Diane’s sole source of information about Jack’s actions, Diane seeks out other sources on her own. She speaks to Nick, Jack’s former best friend, and to Cara, Jack’s former girlfriend. What Follows indicates so clearly is how radically Diane’s view of Jack changes in the course of the action, especially when she takes Nick and Cara’s views into account. Follows shows us how Diane progresses from an instinctual desire to protect her “baby” to an increasing severe view of Jack as a young man. Follows invests Diane’s final words with multiple levels of meaning ranging from relief to irony to self-hatred.

Newcomers Tavaree Daniel-Simms and Jadyn Nasato do excellent work as Nick and Cara. In both cases their characters have to project such sincerity that it sweeps away the preconceptions Diane has when she confronts them. Daniel-Simms makes Nick’s protestation that he is in love with Cara deeply convincing. Nasato shows us that Cara’s hostility to Diane’s attempts to understand her is fully justified.

In depicting the increasing desperation of Jack’s parents, Fritz makes Diane’s last offer to Cara rather too hard to believe. The ease with which Cara picks holes in Diane’s idea makes us wonder why an intelligent person like Diane would ever have thought of it. Nevertheless, the ride Fritz’s play takes us on is truly exciting. David and Diane will have to confront a truth that upends everything they believe about their son and about each other. Fritz’s question is whether anyone’s moral fibre is strong enough to do what is right even if it will ruin their dreams – a very pertinent question in a time when so many are happy to embrace convenient lies rather than support inconvenient truths.

Christopher Hoile

Photo: Megan Follows as Diane and Sergio Di Zio as David; Jadyn Nasato as Cara and Megan Follow as Diane. © 2024 Dahlia Katz.

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