- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Washingtonians have a reputation for being more intent on working all hours and getting ahead than forming friendships or hanging out for the sheer pleasure of being around folks they like.

Yet a number of current productions in the area — “Wintertime” at Round House and “Melissa Arctic” at the Folger come to mind — directly address our need to connect, to listen and to be heard. Melissa James Gibson’s mind-bending “[Sic]” is the latest play to deal with this primal urge for relationships, no matter how needy or nutso the connections might be.

The three main characters in “[Sic]” may be holed up in their tiny New York apartments, but they still feel compelled to reach out to others in the same dire straits. Babette (Susan Lynskey) is a pretentious bohemian literary type who has given up her job as an editor to write a novel — a compendium of 20th-century outbursts.

Mostly, she seems to woolgather in her apartment and bum money off her neighbors, Theo (Michael Glenn) and Frank (Ian LeValley).

Theo, a classically trained composer writing theme music for amusement park rides, has a geeky crush on Babette and will do pretty much anything to be in her company. Frank, on the other hand, is training to be an auctioneer. He reels off alliterative rhymes in the solitude of his apartment and has a flirty, slightly reptilian relationship with both Theo and Babette.

All three characters teeter on the edge of financial collapse and eviction from the apartment building, which serves as more than shelter. It seems to be wrapped up in their identities. Without reaching any tidy conclusions, the play offers a slice-of-life glimpse into the lives of three young people struggling to thrive.

“[Sic]” is free-form in style and punctuation, the speeches and dialogue flowing, shifting and overlapping. Not only do the words of the three main characters drift and slap on top of each other, but another fascinating layer is added by the presence of two partially obscured (but heard) characters: Airshaft Man (Jason Lott) and Airshaft Woman (Adrienne Nelson).

We only get enticing snippets of their conversations, which deal mostly with estrangement and loss.

Theo, Frank and Babette all narrate their own lives, as if they are on a reality TV show. Their external monologues are as chaotic and unraveled as they are themselves. When they do reach out to other people, it is for clarification or justification. In their interactions with one another, you seldom get the feeling they care; they are merely using each other.

Miss Gibson’s play is linguistically inventive, and director Kathleen Akerley reinforces its free-form structure with dynamically unusual staging. The audience literally winds around the three actors and their apartments in a set that reminds you of a spider’s web. The audience is forced to participate in the action, constantly craning necks or shifting positions in the seats to catch all that is going on in the various locations.

Throwing the audience into the play is nothing new, but it takes a certain director to make the concept work, and Miss Akerley has both the vision and the clarity to keep “[Sic]” flowing and exciting.

It also helps to have terrific actors, and this production boasts three of the best. Miss Lynskey is catlike and arrestingly predatory as Babette, so lost and alluring that you can see how she beguiles both Theo and Frank. As the sad-sack Theo, Mr. Glenn gives stealthy power to a stereotypical role, and Mr. LeValley imbues the play’s strangest and showiest role with skilled nuance.

If you are willing to take a chance on a play that does not make perfect sense, “[Sic]” will enfold you in a wild and often disquieting world of people who yearn for connection but are caught in a death spiral of manipulation and deceit.

WHAT: “[Sic]” by Melissa James Gibson

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through March 14.

WHERE: Theater Alliance, 1365 H Street NW

TICKETS: $20 to $25

PHONE: 800/494-8497

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