INTERROGATING THE NUDE, Strawdog Theatre Company. As the iconoclastic, ridiculously brilliant Marcel Duchamp, David Warren turns in the kind of sophisticated, dead-on-the-mark performance you see once or twice a season, if you’re lucky. Surrendering to the New York police department to declare that he’s dismembered a naked woman–which he’s done on canvas in his just-completed masterpiece Nude Descending a Staircase–this Duchamp is a coy, publicity-crazed prankster who’ll confess to murder if it will score him headlines. With great playfulness and subtlety, Warren gives us two Duchamps–the first a hyperbolically melodramatic showman who portrays a scandalous artiste for the brick-headed police sergeant, the second a savvy self-promoter who calculates his every flourish for maximum effect.

The other members of the five-person cast perform with stiff ham-handedness, which playwright Doug Wright encourages to some degree as a way to satirize the dull pragmatism of American officialdom. But ultimately this bluntness underscores the script’s lack of depth. Wright never gives Duchamp an adequate foil; the police interrogation is toothless and scattershot, designed to accommodate a series of explanatory flashbacks rather than to grill a murder suspect. Even allowing for Wright’s semiabsurd stylization, he creates no real stakes. Despite Nic Dimond’s intelligent direction and Michelle Caplan and David Meihaus’s ingenious set design, Interrogating the Nude ultimately seems more like a diverting art history lesson than a play.

–Justin Hayford