The Love Talker, Living Theatre Company, at Live Bait Theater. The myth of the actor who becomes irretrievably lost in his role often makes young players leery of immersing themselves in aberrant parts. That’s a problem with The Love Talker, Deborah Pryor’s Appalachian gothic tale of a straitlaced spinster who duels with a seductive witch-boy for the redemption of her sister’s soul. Is the title character a satanic demon, a pagan deity, or a hallucination brought on by the sisters’ denial of their sexuality? The very riddles that make this play so attractive to fledgling theater companies (Thunder Road in 1994, for example) can also give the actors cold feet, since they must parade the script’s extravagantly outre characters before strangers.

Unanticipated inhibition may be at the root of this curiously restrained production by the grandiosely named Living Theatre Company. Though the scenic design hints at the supernatural (heightened at one point by a nicely eerie theokinetic manifestation), neither the helpless mortals nor their omnipotent adversaries come off as any more otherworldly than teenagers at a dance club. This flaw essentially reduces the play’s conflicts to (yawn) dysfunctional-family issues. Only Sara Rene Martin as the lust-drunk Gowdie does justice to Pryor’s lyrical language, yet there is some talent displayed in this debut production. Perhaps the company will redeem itself by biting off a more chewable mouthful in the future.

–Mary Shen Barnidge