SUSY SCHNEIDER IS taking a risk with Husk, the two-person show she wrote and appears in at On the Boards. A respected solo performer, Schneider calls this dramatic evening "the strangest and scariest thing I've ever done." I admire the artist's honest attempt, but Husk is not the success she desires.

Her material is overly familiar from the outset: A caring doctor obsessively probes the mind of a troubled young woman for clues to solving the murder of an infant. Schneider's script not only takes a well-traveled path (unhinging the doctor's own wounded psyche and providing last minute revelations), it further fudges matters with odd touches of humor and bewildering logic that almost made me think Schneider means the whole thing as a grand parody of the genre. Having the compassionate doctor sigh, "God, isn't this one for the books -- at least the one I'll be writing," is a bit cynical as mere leavening for heavy proceedings. Her words too often sound overly written, and don't lend themselves to natural speech; director Susan Finque should have applied more discipline and stepped further out stylistically for the production to accommodate the text's tonal changes and frequent poetic metaphors.

Josh List, an extravagantly funny comic actor, flounders here in the stereotypical doctor role. He almost coasts by on casual, soft-spoken sincerity, yet as the play progresses he seems almost completely at a loss as to how to approach a character who was probably unplayable in the first place. He falls prey to clichéd voice-overs and monologues that have him intoning sentiments that fly out of left field ("How close I've felt to this emptiness she must feel").

Schneider, as a multiple personality patient, is unswervingly earnest. She's smart enough not to let the seams show, but there's also no real force. I can't say that I ever believed a moment of her psychosis; all three of her personalities border precariously on preciousness.

Schneider will, I'm sure, continue to reach in her craft. Perhaps the next time out the rewards will equal the effort.

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