MR. SMARTY-PANTS, Serendipity Theatre Company, at Victory Gardens Theater. Though better known as an author of short fiction, playwright Steve Amick has written for the stage before. Yet his new play seems the work of a talented transplant held hostage by an excess of incidental wit while straining to set forth a rather perfunctory plot. The scenario in brief: Thomas Pynchon-meets-Rich Mackin antihero Brad Lenier has his splendid north- woods isolation disrupted, in part by some bald eagles and their attendant naturalist. The antiromance that follows certainly doesn’t aspire to high drama, but the conflicts underlying the banter are schematic, the scars eventually bared are too patly appropriate, and despite a few good bits, the humor is consistently more clever than funny.

Like its cantankerous protagonist, however, this show is at base good-hearted, and director Matthew Miller plays up his cast’s fresh-faced appeal–a sound approach with a couple of notable exceptions. As troubled neighbor boy Todd, Michael Figliulio lacks sufficient menace or mystery (though maybe he just had as much trouble swallowing his character’s back story as I did). And while at no point less than glitteringly petulant, charismatic lead Paul Dunckel never seems mean or unhappy enough for his softening to really register. The rest of the players are better fits, especially Lori Grupp and Michael Kass as Todd’s too gregarious guardians and Kaitlin Bird as even-keel heroine Allison. Still, their combined charm goes only so far in redeeming this discursive script.