THE POWER FAILURE, InPact Theatre Company and Lair Multimedia, at Victory Gardens Theater. On a set that recalls the 60s TV shows The Avengers and The Prisoner–a black-and-white chessboard adorned with small tables, a few chairs, and a white curtain–two men play a game of mental one-upmanship. One is a well-groomed official (Mark Vallarta) who wants information on a plot to sabotage the government with an electrical blackout; the other is his battered and bloody prisoner (Devon Schumacher), stalling his captor until the power failure can occur. Behind them a silent, black-clad cellist (Caitlin Strokosch) incongruously plays somber, lovely melodies.

In Mark Glinski’s short one-act, a high-stakes showdown is meant to signal a state of psychological and political dissociation; the two men, so obsessed with their immediate objectives that they’ve lost track of their goals, are emblems of a world in chaos. Glinski aims for a strange mix of brutal realism and oddball absurdity: at one point the saboteur, a magician by trade, begins entertaining his captor with parlor tricks. But though the physical violence and edgy teasing of Scott Tomhave’s staging pack some visceral punch, the play never quite works. Unlike Harold Pinter’s One for the Road and Tom Stoppard’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Glinski’s script more often trivializes than deepens the subject. And Vallarta and the more accomplished Schumacher are an uneven match, lending an unfortunate air of playacting to material that must be deadly serious even in its humorous moments. Worthy and well-intentioned, The Power Failure lacks the masterful writing and acting its risky premise demands.

–Albert Williams