The Smallest Things, at Live Bait Theater. Marc Greenstein’s play begins with inane Seinfeld-esque debates over the definition of a morsel and the benefits of caffeinated water. And when a glaringly self-referential scene reprises an earlier conversation, one of the play’s three brothers asks, “Do we really talk like this? Does anybody talk like this?”

Greenstein likely meant to inspire laughter, but acknowledging his script’s artificiality only feeds our frustration with the play’s trite commentary. For instance, a painful confrontation between the brothers ends: “If you can’t count on us, then who can you count on?” Such bromides eventually overshadow what little real emotion and humor there are in this 80-minute show. A self-acknowledged asshole, Mitt (Brad Norman) spends the play explaining why he’s such a jerk. Through flashbacks and narration by the three brothers, we learn that Mitt has not yet recovered from the loss of his wife (Sarah Sorrentino). Undeveloped characters also undercut the play’s emotional backbone. Ira (Aaron Lisman) is one-dimensionally dim (“the intellectual equal to cheese”) while the other brother, Dean (Andy Peplinski), is blandly affable.

The actors only occasionally transcend their characters’ weaknesses to connect with the audience. Matt Boresi’s distracting direction isn’t helped by Paul Mashl’s bluntly ineffective lighting.

–Jenn Goddu