WHISKEY SOUR FOR THE SOUL, Wax Fruit Theatre Company, at Voltaire. The axiom that conflict fuels drama can be learned too well by beginning playwrights. Brian McIntire’s first play, Whiskey Sour for the Soul, boils over with serious character clashes, petty squabbles, and forced friction. A bunch of twentysomething “Young Catholic Survivors” meet in an inner-city day-care center, and for 90 minutes we eavesdrop as these disparate souls open old wounds, spring secrets on each other, and offer tough love. But mostly they fight–over who suffers or drinks the most, over the stereotypes they fling at each other, over the rules of engagement, even over the kiddie chairs they’re forced to sit in.

McIntire has a strong feel for these mourners, and he never puts consistency of character before complexity. But he doesn’t make sense of their exits and entrances, and too often he reduces their quarrels to tag-team shoutfests.

Anne Byrd’s sincere staging makes it all taut and real. The eight well-cast actors are as primed as skyrockets: they give even gratuitous confrontations the tension of feeding time in the lion house. Gail Rastorfer is nicely brittle as the hapless leader, Paul Mazzocco sweetly slow as the kindest of these walking wounded. And as the most afflicted victim, Tony Rago earns his mad scene. This is one outburst that transcends histrionics.

–Lawrence Bommer