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at Link’s Hall, through May 1

The first thing to notice about Vincent Balestri’s work in An Agnostic’s Hell is its unassuming simplicity. The stage has the sparse, functional, yet comfortable feel of a bachelor’s apartment. Two black sheets are spread out on either side of the stage. On one is a foam cushion with a rust-colored sheet taped to the middle; at each corner of the other are four folded sheets of different colors. In the middle is a foam wedge covered in a black sheet. The set’s not ugly, but it’s not good-looking either. It’s just there.

The set is there in the same way that Balestri and performer Bill Drew are there. They don’t project intense emotions. They don’t try to present a polished image. They simply coexist onstage, a feat many young performers find impossible to do. An Agnostic’s Hell is theater without the theatricality. Balestri’s performance as a man searching for meaning in his father’s death may never become the hottest ticket in town, but it’s honest and very effective in a small but sincere way.

Balestri inhabits a metaphysical world, traveling through three realms labeled “death, the search, and illumination.” His journey is guided by “God-Guide-Guy” (Drew). It’s an intellectual trip, a wondering, anxious look into the void created by the absence of set religious beliefs. The two either speak pages of poetic verse or communicate in one-word sentences. Their movements are stylized; their purpose isn’t always clear to the audience, though it seems clear to Balestri and Drew. There’s a profound simplicity to this piece. In the absence of religion, Balestri creates his own. It’s as if we’re witness to a deeply personal ritual, one in which the participants are unaware that they’re being watched.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nick Rossi.