TIGHTS ON A WIRE, Zeppo Productions and Old Timer Productions, at Eclipse Theatre Company. I’ve never been particularly fond of George Brant’s plays; Lovely Letters, his parody of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, was too long, and Sitcom, a TV takeoff, was too obvious. But as an actor–in such disparate shows as Bitches, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and A Death in the Family–Brant has revealed a remarkable emotional and stylistic range. Which always made me hope that one day he would learn to edit his work–or find someone to do it for him.

Brant’s new play, Tights on a Wire, about a family of circus performers, was written with mime J.P. Manoux. It’s a hybrid work–part comedy, part melodrama. The press materials call it a “mock tragic tale.” It isn’t all that funny–again the shtick is way too obvious to raise laughs–but Brant may have found his collaborator.

The story Brant and Manoux tell is always engaging–an even harder skill to master than joke writing. Even when the plot gets bizarre and twisty–the climax requires the whole Gamboni family to create a human pyramid on a tightrope–they never lose sight of the story line. Nor do they forget how important believable, fascinating characters are. And no matter how surreal things become, they never allow their creations to do anything out of character for the sake of a laugh. So even though the jokes fall flat, at the end we’re sorry to see this crazy gang of high-wire walkers go. –Jack Helbig