Police Deaf Near Far, Stage Left Theatre. Without Robert Schleifer’s volcanic performance as angry, charismatic young deaf activist Stinger, David Rush’s new play could easily have devolved into an issues-driven melodrama. Instead, under Drew Martin’s deft direction, it offers a tense, engrossing 90 minutes of theater.

Stinger is based on Eric Smith, a hearing-impaired man killed by a policeman during a routine traffic stop in Forest View in 1996. Swaggering about the stage, Schleifer plays him with captivating ferocity mitigated by the crushing vulnerability he demonstrates in more private moments. Whether he’s arrogantly seducing sign-language interpreter Roberta, angrily confronting a parent getting a cochlear implant for his son, or frustratedly trying to communicate with a disaffected policeman, Schleifer is consistently hypnotizing. So much so, in fact, that one wishes even more stage time had been given to him and less to the adeptly performed but familiarly sardonic, weary cops.

Rush chooses to recount the events surrounding Stinger’s death from multiple perspectives, employing a documentary style that’s more functional than artistic. He takes pains to develop parallels between Stinger’s doomed relationship with Roberta and that of the two cops worn down by their demanding jobs, even employing bits of the same dialogue for each. But though the two converging narratives command equal time, they don’t necessarily merit equal attention. Fortunately Schleifer’s outstanding performance ensures that the far more engaging story is the one that ultimately resonates.

–Adam Langer