Disturbed, Half Cocked Productions, at the Space. Arik Martin may be one of the smartest playwrights working in Chicago today–or at least one of the most masterful at manipulating the audience. Deftly navigating text and subtext, he’s capable of switching gears abruptly, alternating between raw dialogue and sublime, explicit violence. There’s much to recommend Disturbed, from the remarkable verisimilitude of the dingy hotel-room set to the casual grace of Martin’s staging. And it’s always a pleasure to watch the Half Cocked ensemble–particularly John Wilson, J. Scott, and Gary Sugarman–hit a groove with their brand of way-out-there performance.

Martin sets the stakes high in his latest script, a parallel-universe Barton Fink about a deadline-weary novelist unable to concentrate amid the chaos of a hotel. But he also boxes himself into a corner within the first 20 minutes or so: once he introduces all the oddball characters–a horny white-trash couple, an eager-to-please bellhop, a blind beatnik–he’s mostly concerned with how to pick them off in increasingly grotesque fashion. He never cuts to the heart of the writer’s dilemma or of the intoxication of murder, a gap made all the more painful by his reckless squandering of the germ of an intriguing dark farce in the dull titillation of a rising body count.