Unlike Tony Kushner in Old Testament-prophet mode, Bruce Norris never seems to court consideration as a “serious” writer–which makes his new play even more of a triumph. In The Unmentionables, making its world premiere here, the principles of two American couples living comfortably in an unnamed West African country are tested when they must deal with a brutal situation. Norris is aware of his characters’ pain and foibles, as usual, but overcomes his tendency to merely point them out. Instead he takes bigger chances, allowing his self-absorbed characters some breathing room and a few fumbling attempts at doing actual good. Anna D. Shapiro’s staging is typically subtle and intelligent, and the cast is stellar, particularly Amy Morton as an entertaining motormouth. Fluid, disturbing, and thoroughly engaging, The Unmentionables is a significant step forward for a challenging playwright. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Through 8/27: Tue-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat-Sun 3 and 7:30 PM, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, downstairs theater, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650, $20-$60.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.