Journeymen, at Cafe Voltaire.

Burrowing beneath the tabloid trappings, Quebec dramatist Rene Daniel Debois probes the tortured psyche of a male hustler who’s just killed the one john he loved. What results is a taut psychological mystery that, sadly, rhapsodizes over a hoary theme–you always hurt the one you love, a cliche that O.J. may have spoiled for good.

Framed as a heated interrogation of the murderer, Yves, by a hostile Montreal detective who means to find the truth, Debois’ 90-minute work effectively raises the tension, though sometimes it relies on sensationalistic padding. One subplot– Yves blackmails a judge (a former trick) in order to get press exposure for his crime–turns out to be a red herring, for example. The real story (arrived at only after the actors have poisoned the air with cigarettes) is closer to Jeffrey Dahmer than Romeo and Juliet: Yves wanted to preserve the feeling of “being at home” that Claude, a handsome 22-year-old student, could give him. Rather than send him out to “spend the rest of his life in shit,” he stabbed Claude to death–really intending, he tells us, to kill himself. (Only later does Yves discover that, even though Claude filled his journal with ecstatic entries about his “brother” Yves, he had a girlfriend.)

Despite Debois’ romanticization of violence, his torn-up killer provides a telling look at a hustler’s twisted take on love. Despite forced blocking (way too much pacing around the stage) and sporadic over-the-top emoting from Chad Krueger as Yves and John Guzzardo as the inspector, that anguish is what fuels Frank Pullen’s pile-driving staging. Fortunately, Yves’ love makes much more sense than Claude’s murder.