The Cut, A Red Orchid Theatre. With performances this incendiary, direction this intense, and set design this inspired, it’s easy to forgive the occasional exaggerated or oversimplified moment in Mike Cullen’s The Cut, an existential Scottish thriller set 3,000 feet below the earth’s surface. Coal miner Salter (Guy Van Swearingen) returns from prison to this unforgiving, animalistic place to find out which of his three coworkers caused his father’s death in a supposed mining accident.

True, some aspects of the plot feel contrived. Cullen’s philosophizing about capitalism and the mutable nature of truth could be more subtle, and the character of Hessel (Matt Gibson), who lures Salter into a fatal pact, is positively Mephistophelian, too broad to be fully convincing. That said, however, the Red Orchid performers under Lawrence Grimm’s direction are so committed to their roles that the mystery at the play’s core seems less important than the seething conflicts between the men, as Salter tries to navigate a world in which morality has been reduced to ashes. Van Swearingen is especially compelling–an inferno of blind rage and desperation–but the true star of this production is Stephanie Nelson’s frighteningly claustrophobic set. In the nihilistic finale, Nelson’s set and Grimm’s production together give new meaning to the word “explosive.”

–Adam Langer