THE CONDUCT OF LIFE, Frump Tucker Theatre Company, at National Pastime Theater. Frump Tucker offers a brave but uneven rendering of The Conduct of Life, Maria Irene Fornes’s parable of a torturer’s home life and the relationship between sex, rage, and respectability. Like many of her remarkable plays, this one combines naturalism, parody, confrontation, and polemics in a complicated collage that mocks conventional morality while crying out for the renewal of human decency.

Director Kelly Lynn Hogan evokes the brutality of the play, focusing its tension and emotional force on Orlando, the torturer, and contrasting his violent and explicit rape of the prisoner Nena with the frustrated stagnation of his fearful, submissive wife. However, with the exception of Dado–who plays the family maid, Olimpia, with skillful irony and deadpan seriousness–the production doesn’t have the intellectual or satiric lift that would bring out the subtleties of Fornes’s script.

Nevertheless, this is a challenging production of a sophisticated politically and socially aware play. Strong performances by Jihad Harik as Orlando and Deborah King as Nena are accompanied by resonant cello music by Robin Crawford. David Denman’s set turns National Pastime’s black box, formerly a speakeasy, into a distorted, almost cartoonish corner where nightmares become reality. –Carol Burbank