In the Solitude of Cotton Fields, A Red Orchid Theatre. In an unnamed, desolate location, two men–the Dealer and the Client–meet at “the hour when, ordinarily, man and beast are falling savagely one upon another.” Though the Dealer declares that his only aim is to fulfill the Client’s desires, he refuses to disclose what he has for sale. And though the Client insists he’s just out for a stroll and wants none of the Dealer’s shady business, he hovers uneasily around him for more than an hour. Their motives heavily veiled, the two men fluctuate between hostility and seduction, playing out an intricate cat-and-mouse game that leaves them both emotionally battered.

French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltes’s 1986 existential drama is taut, mystifying, and deadly difficult. The characters trade dense poetic monologues for 75 minutes, dissecting the indeterminacy of human desire. And while the playwright’s fascination with the dealer-client relationship seems at times more obstinate than evocative, his images are tantalizing, and his unsparing approach fascinates.

Director Dexter Bullard avoids all gimmicks in this bare-bones production, letting the play proceed on its own maddeningly secretive terms. Paul Dillon and Lawrence Grimm cling to the script’s every word, locked in a linguistic battle with each other as well as the playwright. Like the script, the production is gripping one minute, tedious the next. But it’s definitely a boon to those who expect theater to confound and provoke instead of merely entertain.