Stray Dogs, Profiles Theatre. Julie Jensen’s plays are not neatly packaged little fables. The worlds occupied by her characters crawl with the messy, contradictory, often grotesquely banal quirks of real life. So when two allegedly competent adults overlook several opportunities to disarm the drunken bully threatening them with a .22 rifle in Stray Dogs, the oversights are just dumb enough to be believable.

The bully is a hell-raising Utah ne’er-do-well (Brigham’s brethren included a few of them, even in 1958) whose wife is determined to throw him out before his youngest son–at age seven, an incorrigible brat who tortures animals–gets to be too much like him. The pious 11-year-old son prefers the example set by their Uncle Wells, despite the latter’s suspiciously affectionate interest in their mother. But violence sparked by the men’s deep-seated rivalry soon robs the boys of their role models.

Under the direction of Sarah Atkins, a cast of Profiles regulars immerse themselves fearlessly in the play’s unpleasant milieu, painting an intense portrait of commonplace corruption. Ryan Leveque and Zach Gray offer remarkably mature performances as the doomed youths. And the meticulously detailed set (by Joe Jahraus, who also plays Wells) strikes just the right note of skin-shriveling shabbiness. –Mary Shen Barnidge