Blood on the Cat’s Neck, Trap Door Theatre. Best known for his powerful, offbeat, messy films, Rainer Werner Fassbinder–who’d made 40 films by the time he died of a drug overdose at 36–also wrote powerful, offbeat, messy plays. Such as the absurdist comedy Blood on the Cat’s Neck, which concerns an extraterrestrial, Phoebe Zeitgeist, who comes to earth utterly naked–literally and figuratively–and wanders through an unnamed city trying to learn how to fit into the culture, memorizing key sentences without seeming to understand them.

Trap Door’s production, directed by Andrew Cooper Wasser, has many of the strengths and weaknesses of your average Fassbinder movie. Some scenes feel too short, others too long. The story pokes along, then leaps forward so suddenly it leaves you breathless.

But as in his films, this play’s characters carry the day–intriguing, decadent urban denizens, all just perverse and neurotic enough to avoid becoming stereotypes. Here these roles are performed with sureness, verve, and comic sense. Kristie Hassinger, playing Phoebe, performs with particular grace given that for the first 30 minutes she wears only a hat, gloves, and shoes.

Fassbinder doesn’t reveal why Phoebe has come to earth until the play’s conclusion, which pulls the often aimless-seeming scenes of the preceding hour into sharp focus and provides a critique of contemporary dog-eat-dog society that’s as funny as it is chilling.

–Jack Helbig