Peggy has redecorated the living room and her husband, Roger, can't stand it. Peggy's usual exquisite taste was overcome by a mysterious lapse which caused her to redo the room as if it were a stage set. Everything faces one wall, the "fourth wall," which she's left bare and which is really the audience. Unable to cope any further, and needing someone to talk to, Roger asks their old, dear friend, Julia, to fly up from New York. Julia agrees that something strange is going on, especially since everyone who enters the room begins to behave as if they were acting in a play, or even a musical when occasionally someone feels the urge to sing a Cole Porter song. Julia, affected by the room, suggests Roger call "976-NUTS" and have Peggy put away, which would allow the two of them to have the affair they've never before thought about. Roger can't do that and explains that he's got one hope left: Floyd, a local theatre professor. Roger asks Floyd to come over in hopes that he can "Doctor" Peggy's play and bring it to a close, thus allowing him and Peggy to resume their happily married life. But that doesn't work either as Floyd sees what's going on and is in complete agreement with Peggy. Peggy, following in St. Joan's footsteps at Floyd's urging, decides she must do what she must do and sets out to break the fourth wall in order to connect with her feelings. Roger rushes after her, leaving Julia and Floyd with a final Cole Porter tune.
In this love letter to the theatre, Gurney uses the stage to explore, quite comically, our place in the world today. Set in the living room of a contemporary, upper-class, Buffalo, New York couple, the author sharpens his wit on such topics as cola wars, politics, and even the very audiences who attend plays. "…some damn clever writing…Constructed to illuminate the nature of the dramatic form while raising questions about the current state of the theatre in America…the evening is debonair, thought-provoking, and funny." —The New Yorker. "…cleverly experimental…Mr. Gurney is a very sophisticated writer, and the variety of parallels he draws here, between art and politics, between characters and audience members, between the theater and the world, are dizzying and diverting…for those of us in distress over the political and cultural climate, [THE FOURTH WALL] is a bolstering, welcome and maybe even necessary expression of patriotism." —New York Times. "Gurney's intentions may be serious here, but his tongue is planted firmly in his cheek. Which is where it belongs if the audience is to enjoy this play. Which it most assuredly does." —The Journal News. "Anyone familiar with Gurney's work is in for a big surprise…He has turned the Gurney genre on its ear and produced two hours of devilishly comic cleverness. Nothing he has written before is quite like this piece, and a strong argument can be made that nothing he has written before is this good." —Milwaukee Journal. "THE FOURTH WALL…is filled with amusing literary references, sophisticated characters and moves along quickly with nary a wasted word…but the real fun…comes from watching Gurney play with the changing reality of the moment as his characters and audience respond to the fourth wall in front of them." —Variety. "It's a whimsical meditation on the theatre—its history and its conceits, its degradation in the video age, and its enduring potential for enabling people to connect. And, above all, it's a clever, playful prayer for its survival." —Chicago Sun-Times.