Eight Panels, Edna Welthorpe Productions, at the Hungry Brain. In this new short play by Chicagoan Jesse Weaver, an itinerant teacher lectures a class of wannabe comic-strip artists on the greatness of the form without ever showing them work of his own. His personal and professional insecurities rise to the fore, however, when he falls in love with an eccentric, depressed student who has real talent.

Both actors give their roles an honest try: Karin McKie is alternately sharp and neurotic as the student, and Grant Kuchan is all biting bluster as the professor who can’t practice what he preaches. But their efforts are undermined by the playwright’s struggle to find the right tone. Is this a sad tale of two lonely hearts trying to make a connection, a scathing critique of the art world and academia, or a sly comic tale of manipulation? Weaver–who mugs his way through a cameo as a gadfly student–doesn’t seem sure, and neither are we.

Director Jessi D. Hill keeps the action rolling along smoothly, composer-pianist Dan Slyman provides a jazzy score in the Vince Guaraldi vein, and the Hungry Brain–a full-service bar–is a great space. Audience members can bring their dogs, have a drink, and try to figure out the show.