SEASCAPE AND SEX, DEATH, AND FRIDAY NIGHT, Step Right Up Productions, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop. Presenting two plays in strikingly different genres, Step Right Up Productions fails to distinguish itself in either. Seascape, Edward Albee’s dated meditation on evolution and mortality, is a peculiar choice for a young company in a non-Equity scene decidedly short on decent older actors. The play concerns a typical Albee intellectual couple in their twilight years forced to examine their fears and discarded hopes when they encounter two giant lizards on a beach. Albee posits human evolution as a dead end in which all we’ve gained are fears, inhibitions, and superfluous technology. Even in 1975, when he wrote this bloated one-act (extended to full-length by means of a 15-minute intermission), it’s doubtful he was breaking new ground.

I’ve come to grudgingly accept Albee’s skills as a dramatist in his most accomplished works. But when Charlie and Nancy explain human emotions to the lizards in Seascape, what comes to mind is not Descartes but a mediocre Star Trek episode. Talented mature actors in the lead roles could have helped mask the blatancy and flatness of Albee’s writing, but Elaine Roth and Jim Schmid are two average performers who don’t seem to have received much direction from Heidi Crooker. Their deliveries are stilted, their movements awkward and unmotivated, and they never make the play even remotely credible.

Stephanie McCanles’s Sex, Death, and Friday Night seems little more than an improv exercise stretched into a grim hour-long comedy without words: McCanles has created what amounts to a slacker ballet. Backed by a trippy, droning rock ‘n’ roll duo, six performers silently enact four twentysomething roommates and their sexual partners on one particularly miserable Friday night. Presenting a familiar world of empty sex, alcoholism, binge eating, channel changing, and pot smoking, McCanles (who also directs) offers a work whose only innovation is wordlessness–a tacit admission that any dialogue at all would reveal the lack of originality in the characters, plot, and vision. In short, this is a bleak bore.

–Adam Langer