BAGLADY, Nova Productions, at Voltaire. This one-woman show by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness forestalls any empathy with its protagonist, a mentally ill vagrant who over the course of an hour holds court with a dog, her father, and a passerby. To the viewer, who sees nothing but one woman prowling a stark stage, these appear to be nothing more than figments of her imagination. But to the bag lady her interlocutors are real–integral, tangible components of her life.

The themes of child abuse and mental illness in Baglady are profoundly disturbing, but even more provocative are the manifold realities that converge onstage. McGuinness’s script rebuffs any attempt to understand the bag lady’s psyche, and director Sara Elmore builds on this sense of alienation with her economical staging; during a gut-wrenching mock dialogue between the woman and her father, Elmore positions the character with her back to the audience.

Lila Michael as the bag lady is remarkably multidimensional; her simple gestures and body language tell a range of stories the script doesn’t explore. Unfortunately, McGuinness’s dense, unwieldy language tends to eclipse the play’s lyricism, but Nova Productions’ staging compensates: it’s an all-too-rare example of a production that surpasses the play itself. McGuinness’s script may be poetry, but Michael’s acting is poetry in motion. –Nick Green