To El and Back, at Cafe Voltaire.

A young writer toils over the latest rewrite of his television screenplay–a soapy mini-epic involving a ruthless, greedy attorney, a posturing punk musician, their passive women, and assorted colorful urban types. As the narrative unfolds, the various characters appear before the screenwriter, sometimes asking for advice: “Hey! Where am I?” shouts one of them.

Assistance from any quarter is desperately needed. When several cast members departed just weeks before the opening of Tim Grimes’s To El and Back, he restructured his 15-role script as a one-man show: he plays all the male characters, and the audience is supposed to imagine all the female ones. While this method of presentation is not unprecedented, To El and Back is painfully underdeveloped: the stereotypical characters are shallow even for their genre, and their actions are motivated by the most unbelievable impulses (Why would a StreetWise peddler assassinate an indifferent customer?). Nor has Grimes, as performer, sharpened his characterizations sufficiently to distinguish them from one another or from a midwestern slacker talking to himself instead of to his audience.

Unlike his fictional counterpart, Grimes seems driven more by naivete than by arrogance. Sure, the show must go on, but this mission is so useless and professionally hazardous that Grimes should consider marshaling his forces and mounting the play later.