I COULDN'T HELP BUT NOTICE that several people didn't return to their seats after intermission. One tie-dyed and Birkenstocked lady huffed off just a few minutes into the opening act, shortly after shouting a few choice political opinions at the stage. I wonder if these errant audience members would have been so eager to storm off had they realized that their display of righteous indignation only validated the main point of the play. Probably not -- which, ironically enough, was another point of the play. In fact, Stonewall Jackson's House is so chock full of points it's almost impossible to keep track of them all.

This play is as complex as it is controversial, and almost defies synopsis. It begins with LaWanda (Tracey A. Leigh), a young black tour guide of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's home, who desperately seeks deliverance from her hopelessly disenfranchised life. Taunted by a pair of redneck tourists, and full of romantic, Gone with the Wind notions of the Old South, she reaches her wit's end. In a stunning turn of events, she begs a well-off white couple from Ohio to absolve her of all modern responsibilities -- do her taxes, pick her HMO, even choose her sexual orientation -- by allowing her to become their slave. Racist? Possibly. At least until the rednecks, disdaining their own pathetic lives and sensing a sweet deal, get in on the action by mortgaging their freedom to the same rich white couple. Can it still be racist if the white folks do it too? And can slavery be immoral if it is voluntary?

Well, that is only the beginning. Welcome to Stonewall Jackson's House -- the most incisive, intelligent, and challenging piece of theater to come along in years. Inflammatory from beginning to end, this wicked gem (actually a play-within-a-play) is so convoluted with plot twists and opposing points of view that it rapidly resembles a hall of mirrors, each image reflecting back at itself until it is impossible to tell where it all began. Within moments, all of America's most precious social and political taboos are left screaming for mercy at the hands of playwright Jonathan Reynolds' vicious and painfully objective analysis: racism, anti-Semitism, feminism, the equally lucrative cultures of victimization and victimhood, the pros and cons of Farrakhan, McCarthy, and Stalin, entertainment as American cultural priority #1, the death of art, and the vagaries of human nature that make all of these things possible -- no stone is left unturned, no sensibility unoffended. Reynolds doesn't simply explore these issues -- with toothsome satire he rips them apart and examines their steaming entrails to arrive at a conclusion as unsettling as it is self-evident: They all stink.

But for all its weighty subject matter, Stonewall Jackson's House never becomes mired down or mean spirited, and succeeds in being as funny as it is fierce. It makes its case saliently and powerfully while taking full advantage of the hilarity inherent in an area of human involvement we all take far too seriously -- ourselves. Not a small part of this was due to the expert cast, who delivered what could have been droning rhetoric with perfect timing and comedic punch. Tracey A. Leigh was especially strong, giving a powerful, sympathetic, and hilarious performance in her duel role as the revolutionary dramaturge and the hopeless LaWanda. Hope Alexander was both admirable and infuriating as the pushy Stella Adler-meets-Stalin thespian. In fact, it would be a challenge to find a cast that could do better justice to this play: All were solid, balanced, and well-rounded, with a full grasp of the absurdity of it all. They explored the stereotypical natures of their characters without becoming caricatures, while still nodding to the fact that these stereotypes exist for a reason: They are often accurate.

The stage, designed by Andrew V. Yelisoch, was a marvel of minimalism and did not attempt to distract from the action or text. Especially powerful was the poetic final scene, with all characters dressed in white, silently rocking on the porch in a circle around the mute LaWanda -- all unconsciously reverted to type and reduced to their lowest common denominator as both slave and slave master. Darn good stuff.

In the final analysis, there is no way this play could possibly lose. If you love it, it's made its point. If you hate it, it's made its point. If it pisses you off enough to yell things at the stage and storm out, it's really made its point. There are no heroes (or heroines) here: When scrutinized, everyone's most cherished political philosophies are shown up as self-serving shams. And maybe rightly so. But love it or loath it, Stonewall Jackson's House proves that in the theater of ideas, blatant honesty is perhaps the most dangerous and disquieting idea of all.

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