Life Separates Us, Cousin Billy Plays and Van Chester Productions, at Chicago Actors Studio. Playwright-director Sean Farrell is obviously still struggling to make sense of the mismatched puzzle pieces of 9/11. Not surprisingly, then, his attempt to define one character’s crisis of faith in the wake of that event is his latest work’s least compelling element, mostly an addendum to a penetrating investigation of the skepticism permeating modern faith.

Life Separates Us–like Farrell’s last full-length play, Blind Faith–treats therapy as a cultish religion and dances around the sexual titillation of violent acts. But in this case Farrell–who’s previously concentrated on pieces for one or two actors–branches out and writes for six. Unfortunately there’s only enough material for four, and the least defined characters–a wide-eyed teacher and his assertive wife–lose out. Moments of startling acuity in the tug-of-war between the other two couples are offset by occasional dialogue in the falsified, chin-up cadences of soap operas and popcorn flicks.

Bold, finely etched performances by all the cast members–but especially Bill Ryan and Erica Peregrine as a slimeball lawyer and his button-pushing wife–almost counterbalance the off-kilter script. But the play is more than a spit shine away from being finished: before searching for answers, Farrell needs to figure out what questions he’s asking.