As one of the more experimental directors in town, Sean Graney narrows his focus down to a specific concept and then goes for it all the way. (His very funny commedia production of “Leonce und Lena” last spring was a memorable example.) As a playwright, Graney’s efforts have been less formed—and less impressive. But for evidence of his writing potential—and it is considerable—look no further than “The 4th Graders Present An Unnamed Love-Suicide, ” first staged last year by the Side Project, now in a revival by Graney’s own company, The Hypocrites. Dressed in typical Catholic school uniforms, a gaggle of fourth graders—well, actors in their early twenties, but at first glance they really do look like little kids—file into an empty classroom and sit cross-legged on the floor. A boy stands center stage and shyly explains the play we’re about to see: “Johnny wrote this before he shot himself. It talks bad about the 5th graders.” Set in the world of hall monitors, schoolyard bullies, bossy rich girls and boys who say “I like like you,” the “children” reenact the tragedy with a hyper-stilted, wide-stance awkwardness that is both a send-up of and homage to school pageants. It is funny (in a “Heathers” sort of way), strangely nostalgic (oh yeah, grammar school…), and insidiously heartbreaking. It lasts barely an hour—and it leaves you flattened. Director-set designer Jimmy McDermott is back with much of the original cast, all of whom are extremely good, manhandling their surreal, orange-colored props: a juice box, a hall pass, a bag of sweets. The faux intermission, as the children silently mill around eating punch and cookies, staring at the floor, is one of the most carefully observed scenes I’ve come across in recent memory. (Nina Metz)
“The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide” plays at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 North Southport, (312)902-1500, through September 26.