Like all good playwrights, Ian Pierce isn’t particularly interested in how his characters feel. He’s much more interested in how they think, and how those thoughts compel them to act. While lesser playwrights monopolizing area stages seem content to back their characters into corners where they can sob (or at least look very upset) for an hour and a half, Pierce can’t be bothered with emotional displays. He’s got bigger fish to fry–namely trying to understand how people enter moral and ethical variables into the calculus of self interest. Like David Mamet’s characters, Pierce’s are always after something, and usually with a vengeance. By ratcheting up the absurdism, as he does in his explosive black farce Living in the Present Tense, he weds Mamet with Eugene Ionesco to produce one of the most intriguing, baffling, frighteningly entertaining plays of the season. The premise is simple: in a town under blackout, only one light shines, and it’s in the home of Stan, a milksop nobody who soon finds himself besieged by a trio of rapacious men intent on transforming him into some kind of prophet. Against Stephanie Nelson’s deceptively sophisticated stage design, under Steve Walker’s furiously paced direction (which only occasionally lapses into frenetic incomprehensibility), a smart, meticulous Hope and Nonthings cast turns this enigmatic script into a volatile evening sure to addle the brain. Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway, 773-227-8004. Through November 23: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays 7 PM. $10.

–Justin Hayford

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Tim Carlson.