The Credeaux Canvas, SmashTheatre, at Heartland Studio Theater. Three struggling young East Village bohos need money. Volatile Jamie has a plan: he’ll sell rich culture vulture Tess a painting by obscure belle epoque artist Jean-Paul Credeaux, telling her he knows the artist’s nudes are soon to increase in value. In fact, the painting will be executed by his nerdy art-student roommate Winston, and Jamie’s devoted girlfriend, Amelia, will pose for it.

This irresistible premise leads us to expect a boulevard comedy, a satirical commentary on the New York art world. The play’s second scene–with Amelia and Winston making pronouncements such as “I feel like I’m running a marathon against my own disillusionment”–takes us into the realm of beat-era introspection. When the clothes come off, the disparate elements in Keith Bunin’s play gradually cohere to reveal a bittersweet knowledge of a world where lovers’ dreams don’t always come true.

This is hardly news to audiences in 2003, but the SmashTheatre actors, under the direction of Rob Mello, immerse themselves in their personae to bring out the complex emotions beneath the stereotypes. Their sensitive portrayals illuminate Bunin’s insights into the capriciousness of human interactions.