ANNIE & EDWARD, Van Chester Productions, at the Heartland Studio Theater. Sean Farrell’s two-character one-act begins in limbo, with a man and woman sitting on chairs at opposite ends of an empty stage. This is a dangerous place to start a play, especially for a young writer with literary or intellectual pretensions. The temptation is to skip the messy details-story, setting, character development-and leap right into the meaning of it all. Or to play silly pomo games, as Farrell does, having characters make wry, self-conscious Beckettian comments about what they’re doing here, when this thing is going to get started, and how they’ll pass the time once it does.

Happily, Farrell’s two talkers-Annie and Edward-eventually decide to kill time by telling their stories. Simultaneously. Which is a brilliant idea on Farrell’s part, because neither story could hold our attention long on its own. Farrell has a hip young writer’s habit of packing his tales with too many dark, melodramatic, ultimately unbelievable twists: Annie, for example, loses her minimum-wage job, is forced into prostitution, raises her son alone, and ends up dealing with a freak plane crash. Told together, however, these two improbable autobiographies command our attention despite their forced parallels and bogus urban despair (a tip of the hat to Erin Higgins’s and Ray Dainton’s excellent performances). For all too brief periods, their stories even move us.

–Jack Helbig