• Broadway Beat

X-Ray Shows Fourth Wall Sprained, Not Broken

by Joanna McNaney Stein. @joannafolk.

STONY BROOK, NY - During a summer character study class, acting instructor and author, Nadine Greer, and her radiologist husband, William Feldstein, conducted a groundbreaking experiment that combined medical imaging with theatre arts. After close examination, X-rays revealed that one actor, who was thought to have broken the fourth wall, only sprained it.


“I was intrigued about X-ray imaging on a metaphorical structure,” noted Feldstein, a fellowship recipient at SUNY Stony Brook’s Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Theatrical Integrity. “Using a highly specialized beam, not only were we able to detect the existence of a fourth wall, but also whether a rupture occurred, or if the student was just performing a monologue from The Glass Menagerie.


Greer, author of the acting textbook, Save the Drama for Your Mama, insisted the audience nearest to the proscenium would feel the physical pain of a fracture if exposed to it by an untrained actor.


“To inhabit a character fully, an actor must specify the imagined fourth wall without breaking it,” stated Greer, taking a pencil from behind her ear and snapping it for effect. “Otherwise, the integrity of the actor’s entire performance is compromised. So, I asked my husband, ‘What if an X-ray could capture a broken fourth wall?’ Turns out it can, and turns out some of these actors have broken a lot of walls.”


Molly Hammond, a 20-year-old sophomore named after Molly Ringwald, expressed her frustration with her acting instructor’s experiment.


“I wanted to go to school for acting, not a well-paying job like radiology,” stated Hammond while turning in her college ID to public safety. “I was kicked out of the BFA program because an X-ray showed that I fractured the fourth wall? No way! My Solange from The Maids was rock solid. ‘At last! Madame is dead!’ See? Solid!”


Greer’s next project set to debut this fall is a one-woman play, co-written by her and Feldstein, from the point of view of Yorick’s skull in Hamlet.