The Terrible Girls, About Face Theatre. Rebecca Brown’s episodic 1990 novel about women in love (and out of it) has drawn comparisons to the work of lesbian high priestess of high modernism Djuna Barnes. And Brown’s view of romantic love as inherently obsessive, occasionally abusive, and consuming to the point of cannibalism does share some of the desperate nihilism, leavened with mordant wit, that marks Barnes’s best work. But Brown’s writing is more visceral and less baroque, and that urgency comes through loud and clear in About Face’s staging of six of Brown’s eight tales, adapted and directed by Kyle Hall.

Peter Sciscioli’s propulsive, percussive choreography recalls the ritualistic frenzy of the maenads in The Bacchae. And occasionally the actors, all women, pound on the metal scaffolds that frame Geoffrey M. Curley’s spare, clever set, their noisemaking enhancing Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman’s original music. It isn’t easy to get the tone for this material right–Brown’s imagery, featuring torn-out hearts, sawed-off arms, and the like, gets laid on a bit thick. But just when one is tempted to mutter, “Oh, put a sock in it,” along comes a gemlike moment of heartbreaking self-deprecation.

Brown’s point is that the deepest love and darkest pain make people do the most ridiculous–and bravest–things. Hall’s staging communicates this paradox beautifully, and his cast of eight nails these shifts in tone with finely tooled precision.

–Kerry Reid