Soft Target, Chicago Dramatists. Hysteria breeds hysteria–or so a subtitle for this study in post-9/11 trepidation might run. Just a few days after the tragedy, Buddy’s frequent-flyer wife goes AWOL while returning from a business trip, so he commences a midnight vigil with her parents. His fears heighten their free-floating paranoia, which in turn chips away at his brittle composure; meanwhile his broken-down brother-in-law, Stuart, living at home since leaving his supposedly unfaithful wife, pours a different venom in his ear. Finally succumbing to all the anxiety, Buddy learns a hard lesson about the difference between security and suffocation.

Tom Patrick’s gray comedy seems within arm’s reach of a metaphor for the way fearmongers exploited, then institutionalized, middle America’s surround-sound bunker mentality–with infotainment serving as both wall and window to the world–after the towers fell. Somehow, though, the play never quite gets there, instead foundering in proficient but disposable sitcom exaggerations. Compromising whatever realism lurks in the characters and situation, the generic result could be applied to any collection of phobias–which might have seemed perfectly appropriate in the hysterical shadow of 9/11 but now feels somewhat akin to the overwrought self-involvement Patrick purportedly critiques.

Though if I never saw a couch center stage again it’d be too soon, Morgan Cromwell’s living room set is eerily on the mark, and the cast does a fine job under Ann Filmer’s direction. But they can only do so much lacking a real target, soft or otherwise.