PUNTO, Piven Theatre Workshop. For all its intellectual trappings–and this 80-minute play comments abundantly on Dante and the perils of academe–Dick Cusack’s one-act is really one long act of contrition performed by a suffering professor and observed by an anguished ex-priest. As such, it stands or falls with the acting, which here is so infernally honest it can only indict the flawed script.

In the midst of a blizzard, Warren visits Arthur to confide his Job-like tribulations: he’s lost work, wife, home, hope–everything but the desire to kill himself. Curiously, Arthur’s initial response is irritation. Then, recognizing that Warren, like Dante, is trapped in his own dark woods, the professor takes him on a Cook’s tour of The Inferno. But as it turns out it’s Arthur who needs absolution. And unfortunately that makes Warren a mere device. If this is a talking cure, it’s one-sided–after all, it’s Warren who’s enduring the dark night of the soul. The only help he gets is the chance to play priest again, another of the roles he’s lost.

Terry McCabe’s fluid staging keeps the therapy intimate and often engaging. Matt DeCaro plays Warren with such nonnegotiable neediness that we regret even more Cusack’s neglect of his character, and Byrne Piven’s Arthur rolls through his changes like a ship in a storm, expertly disguising how few of them there really are.

–Lawrence Bommer