BLACKBIRD, Profiles Theatre. Adam Rapp’s actor brother Anthony–of Rent and A Beautiful Mind–may be better known than he is, but the playwright and novelist is a minor star in his own right, a gifted expressionist with a knack for ecstatic anguish and post-traumatic enlightenment. The bleak poetics of Blackbird–a crescendo of illness and despair–are a study in unglamorous corporeal detail yet achieve a quiet, harrowing beauty that neither damns nor ennobles the two damaged principals.

Darrell W. Cox and Lindsay Gould are up to the task of this daunting actors’ workout, delivering gorgeously nuanced, exceptionally brave, acutely realistic performances that leave the audience plastered in their seats. As Baylis and Froggy–a disabled gulf war vet and ex-stripper junkie sharing a New York squat–they play out Rapp’s sure-handed exercise in motel-room fatalism with the queer, transfixing dignity of souls denied any, and under Joe Jahraus’s direction find the fading magic at the heart of their doomed romance. Ultimately much of the story is familiar, but Rapp’s intense distillation, combined with the focus of this midwest premiere, transcends convention: this is how downbeat should be done.