PAPER FLOWERS, Eliand Productions, at Cafe Voltaire. Given a few more weeks of rehearsal, Eliand Productions’ Paper Flowers could be challenging, could be layered with intriguing social and political undertones. As it is, Egon Wolff’s two-character drama about the immutability of class conflict and the emotional struggles of artists is far too tentative and uneasy.

The story of a wealthy, lonely artist who befriends a young, gifted rogue only to become cruelly manipulated by him contains a small number of moving and poetic moments, particularly when this unlikely couple exchange gifts and amuse themselves making silhouettes on the walls of her home. But the play veers off onto a surreal, unsettling course, and the actors are ill-equipped to fully explore what Wolf is trying to say; their characters remain ciphers instead of human beings.

With no apparent overall directorial vision–two directing consultants and collaborators are listed in the program, but no director–the production feels stilted. It’s also hampered by a bare-bones set that can’t convince us a dusty Salvation Army couch is a symbol of opulence, especially when it’s noisily shoved around during unnecessarily long scene changes. It’s also disturbing that Eliand used a live parakeet in following Wolf’s direction to have a caged bird onstage to represent the souls of his characters imprisoned by their positions in society. Having a live bird might be useful thematically, but as its cage swayed from side to side as the two characters paw at it, the bird, peeping and occasionally beating its wings, sure doesn’t seem too happy. But perhaps it was merely expressing its discomfort at having to watch a play that wasn’t ready for an audience.