PLAYWRIGHT BRET FETZER and director John Holyoke are both obviously intelligent men, but Mars Is a Star Who Defies Observation, their new show at the Annex, is frustratingly geared to the theory that Bret Fetzer and John Holyoke are both obviously intelligent men. Fetzer not only acts in the show, but is also a character, played by a woman (much to the delight on opening night of the ever-amused Annex minions). Though ostensibly a darkly comic rumination on the work of 16th-century astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe -- with wild swipes at everything from sexual politics to church doctrine -- Mars allows its creators to pontificate for over two and a half hours without requiring that they produce a solid whole.

There is certainly some invention at work here. Hilda Guttormsen is intriguing as Brahe's silenced daughter, Fetzer himself makes a funny Kepler, and Susanna Burney does a precise, hilarious take on the egotistical Brahe. Furthermore, once you hack your way through the overweening dialogue, the writing displays some of the goofy, literate riffing that distinguished Woody Allen's writing in the early '70s. Like Allen, Fetzer has a field day throwing the stern logic of history into the absurd maelstrom that is 20th-century culture. When a televised Kepler is flustered by a camera operator who informs him that there are, in fact, four more planets than he'd realized, he furiously replies, "Yes, but I didn't know that at the time!" This is the articulate fun that Mars somehow ends up thinking it's above having. The production is disingenuous and insular; the audience is allowed no stake in its outcome. Where Allen ultimately rewards you for running with his references, Fetzer and Holyoke seem to want congratulations for providing them.

Moreover, despite Fetzer's winking narcissism and repeated attempts at self-deprecation, the play inevitably becomes the things it mocks. It stumbles over a fine line somewhere and comes out on the wrong side of satire, gleefully nudging its bombast with supposedly ironic S&M fetishes and a tiring genital fixation. Mars rambles like a drunk intellectual at a theater party, cornering the object of its desire and slurring endless profundities in a desperate attempt to disguise the fact that it just really wants to get laid.

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