THE SKRIKER, Defiant Theatre, at American Theater Company. You’d be hard-pressed to find a production with more creativity per minute than this one. Caryl Churchill’s 1994 play about an “ancient and damaged” shape-shifter trying to steal a baby from a pregnant teen offers ample opportunity for puppetry, work with masks, and stylized acting–all of which the Defiant folks handle with aplomb. The larger-than-life creatures who populate Churchill’s underworld–Johnny Squarefoot, Nellie Longarms, Rawheadandbloodybones–are marvels of theatrical ingenuity. And Barb Wruck Thometz as the Skriker, a role that requires the actor to play about a dozen characters, performs with dazzling intelligence, never allowing her virtuosity to compromise the shared sensibility of the cast.

Now, if only Churchill’s play made a lick of sense. Despite her astounding wordplay and her penchant for surprising twists of character, she leaves a few basics undramatized–like what the hell is a Skriker, and why does she need to steal a human baby? It doesn’t help that Churchill writes the same scene over and over: the Skriker appears in disguise to two teenage girls, ingratiates herself until she’s recognized, then gets huffy and splits. No consequences ever seem to develop from these encounters. Strange mythological creatures traipse back and forth throughout, doing nothing of any interest. If Defiant’s ample brainpower can’t render this script coherent, it’s hopeless. –Justin Hayford