EARTH AND SKY, Circle Theatre, and MURDER IN GREEN MEADOWS, Attic Playhouse. Most murder mysteries are just an excuse to look into the heads of the story’s characters. In the “poetic thriller” Earth and Sky, Chicago playwright Douglas Post focuses on a young librarian, Sara, who suddenly finds herself searching the underworld for the truth about her recently murdered boyfriend. Part of us wants to know whether the police are right when they claim this apparently likable man was dirtier than a Chicago alderman. But we care more about Sara and the changes she goes through. A combination of scenes in the present and flashbacks to various moments in Sara’s courtship with the deceased–the story is told entirely from her point of view–Post’s play is a beautiful, evocative work that can be read either as a noirish thriller or as a journey through Sara’s soul.

Or both, if it’s done right. And it is in Ty Perry’s flawless production: the direction is clear and clean, and the pace is perfect. Bethanny Alexander has both the range to play Sara, a character who starts out vulnerable and ends up hard as nails, and the stamina to survive a two-hour production appearing in every scene. She doesn’t do it alone, of course–it only seems she does because she’s so well supported by the other great actors in the cast.

Murder in Green Meadows is another Douglas Post mystery. But here, unfortunately, he became too wrapped up in producing a play full of twists–a shorter version was originally written for TV. The characters aren’t especially memorable, though the play’s protagonist, Carolyn (ably played by Lori Grupp), isn’t bad. She’s a workaholic working mother recently recovered from a nervous breakdown; like Sara in Earth and Sky, she must figure out the how and why of her significant other’s death. But everyone else in the play seems a cartoon compared to her.

Still, Post’s storytelling is strong enough–we’re sucked in despite uneven performances, especially by Charles Bernstein, who can’t quite play all sides of a role that requires him to be affable one minute, raging the next, and coolly sadistic a moment afterward.

–Jack Helbig