DIMLY PERCEIVED THREATS TO THE SYSTEM, Stage Left Theatre. Playwright Jon Klein delivers a knockout punch in the final minutes of his two-act semisatire of the American nuclear family. Marlys, a high-strung wife and mother who’s been slowly killing herself trying to earn the love of her self-absorbed family, delivers a brutal ultimatum to her daughter and husband over breakfast: if they can’t accept her imperfect love wholly and unquestioningly, she will withdraw it forever. It’s a shocking, powerful moment that showcases not only Elaine Carlson’s acting but Klein’s willingness to push family dysfunction to the brink of tragic despair.

Unfortunately, Dimly Perceived Threats to the System is a one-punch play. Seemingly unaware that the dysfunctional family has been worked to death in the American theater over the past several decades, Klein spends the 90 minutes preceding this scene dabbling in well-worn stereotypes: the bitter, rebellious teenager who hates everything and everybody; the overworked middle-aged father tempted to sow some extramarital wild oats; the long-suffering mother who tries to please everyone and ends up hating herself. With no new insights into family politics, Klein opts for an unsettled mixture of freakish parody and melodramatic pathos whose ultimate effect is meager. Despite a generally strong cast, director Jessi D. Hill captures neither stylistic extreme convincingly, and the performers end up in a middle ground of uncommitted choices.

–Justin Hayford