Coaster, Cave 76, at Chicago Dramatists. Given the mind games and mysteries playwright (and Reader contributor) Adam Langer has favored in the past, his latest work seems positively straightforward. A romantic comedy about a hapless travel-guide writer, Coaster is less concerned with action than Langer’s Film Flam was. And though the playwright’s cynicism still rears its head, it’s tempered here by the fragility and tenderness of his characters: writer Sam Weinberg, who becomes a minor celebrity after publishing a book about Chicago’s worst attractions, thus meeting his love interest, NPR radio personality Melanie Greenberg.

In tone and dialogue, Langer’s Film Flam and The Critics resembled witty but somewhat superficial screenplays. He hasn’t avoided all cinematic cliches here–the first act ends with an affected smile that might as well be a film or television close-up. And Langer still includes a metatheatrical play within a play in the second act. But Coaster is less forced or calculated–and more polished–than its predecessors.

Most of Langer’s cast (especially supporting players John Gray and Barry Cohen) seamlessly bridge the stylistic gap between the main story and the kooky second-act radio play. Only Maht Wells–Langer’s longtime dramatic alter ego–is unconvincing: his neurotic histrionics as Sam convey little depth; even more disappointing, they obscure the humane, sympathetic elements Wells has brought to Langer’s characters in the past.

–Nick Green