Strangers & Romance, Jupiter Theatre, at the Athenaeum Theatre. In its inaugural production, Jupiter Theatre has captured the essence of two Barbara Lhota one-acts, entertaining explorations of raw neediness that also offer sparkling comedy.

Strangers is the story of a traumatized couple who attempt to recapture their romance by meeting as “strangers” at a train station. Matthew Hahn and Nicole Soltis confidently convey when their characters are genuinely communicating and when they’re acting. As directed by Kristy Kambanis, they simultaneously highlight the comedy of the couple’s elaborate game and give their blame and guilt a genuine seriousness. Some important dialogue gets lost in overlapping speeches or muffled during delivery from the floor, but overall the performances are honest and vital.

In Romance a jilted groom and a woman who’s just left her inattentive husband meet, share their woes, and enjoy a genuine connection–a tribute to the possibility of kindness among strangers. Steve Ratcliff is wonderful as the wounded man left at the altar, capturing the comedy in Mick’s ranting without losing sight of his underlying pain or unwavering generosity. Kambanis makes an able effort, but Hahn’s staging hinders her performance: it’s difficult to recognize the character’s subtleties when she spends much of her time facing the back wall in an ill-placed pew.

–Jenn Goddu