SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF, Theatre o’ th’ Absurd, at the Chicago Actors Studio. It’s heartbreaking when a small company puts on a truly awful show, because small troupes are the lifeblood of Chicago theater. But there’s almost nothing to redeem Suspension of Disbelief, written and directed by John Linton Roberson. The play is violent, ridiculous (and not in a good, existentialist kind of way, which is clearly its aim), and mildly offensive: “faggoty” and “dyke” are both used to draw laughs. It’s also stiffly acted and haltingly staged.

Rick Krassner is a struggling writer who may be on the verge of breaking into Hollywood: his vile agent has gotten him a meeting with a producer (Michele Alexander, in the production’s only good performance). The twist is that the characters are compelled to commit murder, cannibalism, and other heinous acts by a director and playwright we never see. Only Rick comes to realize that they’re all trapped in a play, a conceit that could be interesting. But Roberson is unsure of his message and seems to hate everything about the stage and screen. The director (an uncredited voice) is a martinet, the stagehands are bullies, the critics vacuous, and all the characters vicious and unredeemable.