The Bank Guards, Fourth Wall’s bank-heist story, is overwritten and underwhelming

Fourth Wall Cleveland theater Through June 1, produced by Fourth Wall Productions at The Enterprise Center, 540 East 105th Street, 330-283-2442.

Six guys are planning to rob a bank.

That's about as straightforward as a plotline can get. After that, it's up to the playwright to bring it alive through deft characterization. And that's where The Bank Guards, now being presented by Fourth Wall Productions, shortchanges its audience.

In this premiere of local playwright Matthew A. Sprosty's script, four bank guards have come together with the bank owner's son to rip off the institution for "millions." But their plans go awry when the eldest member of the contingent doesn't show up for the pre-heist meeting, and a mysterious stranger knocks on the door, posing as a pizza-delivery guy.

The young playwright is adept at conjuring interesting scenarios along with creating flash-frame moments of trenchant humor. But he's less able to interestingly shape extended dialogue scenes. Seemingly influenced by the repetitive phrasings of David Mamet (American Buffalo) and the weird digressions of Quentin Tarantino, Sprosty is slowly groping his way toward his own distinctive voice. In the meantime, we're left with a production larded with long stretches of talking that don't advance the story and lack the rhythm that can make ordinary speech resonate.

But perhaps the most glaring weakness in Guards — the blame for which must be shared by director Rebecca Cole — is the absence of clearly defined characters. Sure, these are predominantly young fellows with larceny in their hearts. But that's no reason they should all talk at identical speeds, using similar vocabulary and cadences.

Among the players, Ric Barr, Nate Bigger, Michael Riffle, and Benjamin Gates do what they can with their roles, given the limitations. On the other hand, D.J. Hellerman seems out of his depth, and regular Fourth Wall participant Dash Combs once again plays Dash Combs.

When Sprosty learns to engage some serious self-editing capabilities, he may come up with scripts that crackle with insight as well as cleverness. And those will be shows worth everyone's time and attention.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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