Few situations offer as much potential for exhilaration and intimidation as striking up a conversation with Michael Martin. He may be one of the most unassuming, down-to-earth guys hanging around the Lunar Cabaret, but his Olympian intellect tends to reduce us mere mortals to mental midgets. Trying to find a topic on which Martin can’t offer the definitive word–despite his sincere protestations of having read only “a bit” of Foucault or “a few” of David Mamet’s plays–is like dredging the Atlantic for a lost contact lens. But in Pattern Recognition, which premiered in February at the Rhino in Winter festival, the bookish Martin gets his comeuppance in the school of hard knocks. Set in the early years of the Reagan administration, during “those dwindling Mornings in America before we all woke to the realization that poverty would have to be designated a lifestyle choice to account for the astonishing number of citizens pursuing it,” Martin’s monologue leads us through sobering moments “when one grasps, without the possibility of slippage, exactly what one is made of.” During his first lesson, immobilized on the sofa while his brother brutalizes his wife in another room, Martin learns he is made of pure cowardice. “Intelligence,” he concludes, “counts as nothing beside courage.” Martin reinvigorates the confessional monologue, a decidedly exhausted form, by recasting his life as an archetypal journey toward the pathologically unrecognized self. Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 235-8021. Performed with Bryn Magnus’s The Julieannes. Sunday, April 14, 8 PM. $10, or “pay what you can.” –Justin Hayford