THE DEAD MAN’S CAFE, John Ierland Productions, at the Theatre Building. Laurence A. Mesirow didn’t set out to write a mess–it just happened, like toxic spills and gridlock. The Dead Man’s Cafe may mean well but it means nothing.

In this painfully inept, stiff, confusing screwball comedy, a passel of idiotic tourists confront stereotypically horny Latino gangsters in the boring title locale. The thugs are searching for a microchip, the tourists are aiming for the thugs, and the local cops are gunning for everyone. Sadly, the searching, aiming, and gunning are done with the most awesome obviousness. Though the aimless plot is sporadically interrupted by the actors’ Pirandellian complaining about their roles (none of it harsh enough by half), mostly the story just squats there while the characters go off in all directions. Seldom has so much happened with so little to show for it–groaner jokes, witless dialogue, shameless mugging, and clumsy make-out scenes between the banditos and assorted dirty old women.

Stephen R. Roath’s strictly community-theater staging inflicts on the wooden performances a jerky pace, awful accents, and by-the-numbers blocking. Except for the fussily detailed set by Amy Bloom and Bonnie Bandurski, the only winners here are the three hapless actors who get to play corpses during the play’s 90 minutes. They may still have to hear the lines, but at least they don’t have to deliver them.

–Lawrence Bommer