Getting Out, Synergy Therapy Theatre, at the North Lakeside Cultural Center. In a stark, peeling white basement, with the audience a mere four feet from the action, there’s literally no room for artifice or stage tricks. It’s a near perfect metaphor for playwright Marsha Norman’s heroine, Arlene (Melissa Van Kersen), as she tries to rebuild her life and banish old demons after an eight-year prison sentence. Norman, who based the play on her work with disturbed adolescents, powerfully juxtaposes the story of Arlene’s reintroduction to society with flashbacks to her violent childhood (Michelle Goltzman plays Arlene’s younger self). Remarkably, Synergy Therapy Theatre manages to tell both stories in this tiny, dirty, low-tech space, where an empty fireplace serves as solitary confinement and jail-cell bars are represented by light shining through a grate.

The masterful actors create characters so raw, tormented, and vulnerable you can practically see them bleed (most notable are Goltzman, Van Kersen, Katherine Marie Loague as Mother/Warden, and Dan Kuhlman as a vicious pimp). Miraculously, no matter how much anger or pain or deep-down dysfunction each character displays, each also reveals a glimmer of humanity–and it’s enough to offer hope, like sunlight through a dirty window. The chairs are uncomfortable, and there’s no legal parking (plenty of public transportation, however). It’s worth the trip.

–Kim Wilson