The last time Boom! Theater appeared in these pages, it was acting out a story of zombie apocalypse in a rickety wooden room in a rickety brick building beneath the doomed viaduct. People with rifles escorted you from the street, up the stairs, and through the gloom to the theater. It was unclear whether the crazy-looking drunks at the doorway were just wandering by or part of the show. The play was called Taphonomy, and I regretted reviewing it on its closing weekend because I wished more people could see it. Taphonomy was about much more than zombies—it was about loyalty and fear and addiction and the way people cluster into ad hoc societies when confronted with a violent, chaotic word. It seemed as though Boom! had been reading its Hobbes and come up with something harrowing and bright. And fun.

Now it seems that the young theater collective has been reading its Camus. A Net is a purposefully disjointed story about anomie and alienation performed in another rickety brick building beneath the doomed viaduct, just a few doors down from its previous show. On its surface, A Net is about a crazy bearded man in a white lab coat who has kidnapped three shivering, whimpering, blindfolded people ("Are you a doctor?" one of them asks; "I like to call myself one," he says coldly) and secreted them into the theater. He seems interested in their brains and their ability to become part of the internet. One subject—after being strapped into a "memory chair," some shouting, a blackout, and some quick shakes of stage blood—explodes. Another subject, forcibly fitted with goggles and made to play with a ball of string while he stutters out words, seems to achieve some sort of progress—at least the doctor and his assistant don't seem unhappy with the results of the experiment.

Though the action is uncertain, most bewilderingly (and impressively), Boom! has built the theater space so the audience has to walk around to see what's going on. There are chairs, but they're folded up against a wall toward the back of the room. Most of the action happens behind a white wooden wall with slats cut out (small rectangles, big squares) for the audience to walk up to and peer through. By the time the mad doctor has cycled through his experimental subjects—including himself—you won't necessarily know what has happened.

But something has happened. Something bizarre. Something you will be glad to have seen.

The same thing goes for Babs the Dodo, a world premiere by East Coast playwright Michael Mitnick, staged by Washington Ensemble Theatre. Not many lead roles are written for women, and almost none are written for women of a certain age. When is the last time you saw a play about a woman turning 50? Not to mention a sad, absurd comedy about a woman turning 50? But Marty Mukhalian does a fantastically nuanced job as Babs, a TV saleswoman on a fictional QVC-type home-shopping network. She has a horrible wart of a woman for a boss and a coworker called Handsome Chris (the towering Hannah Victoria Franklin and the shiny-domed John Abramson, both very funny and very good). She tries to find love, but finds a gay ornithologist instead—also played with fantastic nuance by Charles Norris. Watching the two of them do their extremely awkward, mutually disappointing (she wants a partner, he wants a beard) but ultimately mutually affirming (she finds a friend, so does he) dance is the second-best thing about Babs the Dodo. The best thing? A sales pitch for a #2 pencil by Handsome Chris, delivered from one corner of Jessica Trundy's multipaneled set:

But wait—that's just the wood. Some other features: It writes. It's got a special graphite "rod" set inside the wood, so your fingers don't get all dirty and then get it all over your tennis whites or whathaveyou. And don't you hate that? When you're writing with a piece of pure graphite and you look down at your fingers and they're DARK BLACK. Not light black. We're talking DARK BLACK. With this, that won't happen. They want me to specify that these pencils are nontoxic, so you can eat them if that's what you want to do. You can eat them. You can also dump them in a river and they won't pollute. Nontoxic. High-quality stuff. We've got a wooden pencil for you today. One nickel, plus $8.95 shipping.

Eventually, Babs starts to shave off her flesh with a vegetable peeler, feathers come out, and the story shoots off in confusing directions. Both Babs and A Net confound logic and description. But they're both deeply satisfying, resonant, and new stories about how people go bananas—and may or may not succeed in their struggles toward truth and happiness. recommended