RAISED IN CAPTIVITY, Cobalt Ensemble Theatre, at Chicago Dramatists. Nicky Silver is the king of quirky playwrights–a dubious distinction when so much contemporary theater has quirked itself into irrelevance. His 1995 Raised in Captivity, the work that made all the New York critics wrongly conclude he had something important to say, begins promisingly enough as a black farce about neurotic estranged siblings Sebastian and Bernadette, reunited by their mother’s death from a projectile showerhead (I told you it was quirky). But any emotional stakes Silver establishes in the first act vanish in the second: he puts his characters through such random, extreme experiences–Sebastian’s psychologist pokes her eyes out and finds God, while Bernadette’s husband gives up dentistry, becomes a painter, and moves to Africa and her four-month-old son learns to walk–that the play may as well be set on another planet.

Cobalt Ensemble Theatre has matured admirably since its hesitant debut a year and a half ago, and Eileen Vorbach’s clean, swift direction goes a long way toward making this two-and-a-half-hour confection palatable. The solid cast is led by the ferociously ludicrous Laura Bailey, whose comedic precision drives her scenes to giddy heights. She’s captivating even just sitting in a chair listening to another character ramble for 15 minutes. But when an actress of her stature seems to have overstayed her welcome by the middle of act two, something is seriously wrong with the script.

–Justin Hayford