Flicker of an Expiring Candle, Side Project, at the Side Studio. Sara Berry Short’s world-premiere murder mystery is an intriguing but frustratingly unrealized blend of classic noir and classical history. The antics of third-century polyamorous Roman emperor Elagabalus form the backdrop for Short’s script, which also owes a huge debt to Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie.

Angus, a psychotherapist with a mysterious fixation on Elagabalus, hypnotizes two clients–one his own niece, Nora, the other a cross-dressing man, Henry, who’s convinced he’s pregnant by his female lover–to help them recall incidents of childhood abuse. Gradually it becomes clear that these patients–and a few other townsfolk–might be implicated in the murder of Joan, lover of the tranny and of the niece’s husband. It seems Joan was found strangled, her body strewn with rose petals–an apparent homage to one of the emperor’s favorite means of execution.

All the plot twists fail to add up to a satisfying conclusion in Genevieve Hurst’s stodgy staging. And the carefully calibrated performances necessary to elicit the tensions of a psychological thriller are missing. Laura Ciresi overplays Nora’s shrill neurosis, and Larry Orr’s cardboard uncle/shrink fails to convince us he could win the trust of his seriously screwed up clients. Short has come up with an interesting concept but hasn’t found a way to weave these disparate elements into a comprehensible whole.