Fourth of July, Annex, at Cafe Voltaire. Steve Hughes’s play conveys no weighty theses, no grand passions, no pungent social commentary–indeed, at a running time of barely 30 minutes, its illumination is almost as brief as Fourth of July fireworks. The text is little more than a dinner conversation in which an intense young actor who’s just flunked his grad-school audition is comforted by his cheerful, earthy slacker buddy and a waitress who always seems to know the right thing to say. But when it’s over, we wish it had gone on longer.

Like the waitress, Hughes also knows exactly what to say. Every time his characters are in danger of becoming clueless, coffee-swilling cliches, one of them suddenly displays an intelligence so charmingly ingenuous that our curiosity is piqued, and we want to stick around for the next tidbit. And though nothing brilliantly witty is uttered–this is no Neil Simon gagfest–the self-directed Annex ensemble deliver their uncluttered dialogue with the kind of timing and nuance that provokes laughter, not in derision but in empathy with these confused, good-hearted kids about whom we leave wanting to know more.