VIRGIN IN THREE PARTS, Billy Goat Experiment Theatre Company, at Chicago Actor’s Studio. In all likelihood the adventurous Billy Goat Experiment won’t amount to much until its members learn a hard lesson: acting is the company’s weakest link. The performers may lack inherent brilliance, or perhaps they’ve simply failed to push one another beyond obvious, superficial choices. But their original Virgin in Three Parts, which tells the stories of three virgin saints in three contrasting styles, falls flat whenever the actors have to relate to one another onstage. Their “deconstruction” of the life of Saint Lucy and their musical tribute to Saint Margaret are hesitant, self-conscious, and only half committed, casting a pall of amateurism over the proceedings.

But when they refrain from acting, as in their startling “toy theater” retelling of the life of Saint Christina, they produce work with all the mystery, intrigue, and hyperbole due their subjects. Under Lynn Marie’s direction, the company members present a kitschy-folk puppet show on a makeshift altar, putting a doll-size Christina through epileptic fits, satanic attacks, and two separate deaths. The playful images speak for themselves, and over the course of 30 minutes the puppetry evolves in surprising and illuminating ways. Combining a keen visual sense with a sophisticated impoverished aesthetic, Marie creates a beguiling work of theater at once hip, creepy, and reverent. This way greatness lies. –Justin Hayford