Perfect Stranger
One World Theatre at the Speakeasy Backroom, 2304 Second Ave, 325-6500. Thurs-Sun at 8; $12-$15. Additional performance Mon Oct 16, 8 pm. Through Oct 21.

LOCAL PLAYWRIGHT Carl Sander begins this script with a set of ideas that become a haunting refrain about existence. His character May (Jená Cane) tells herself: "I feel like I have fallen beneath the surface [of life]," and the play, at first, seems to be about navigating sanely through this bizarre world. Semi-surrealistically, a man (Mark Fullerton) has come to live with May and her husband Bob (Seanjohn Walsh), sleeping on their rollaway bed for no apparent reason. But the story is not what it first appears to be, and moves a bit listlessly through the odd relationship between the three.

Walsh pulls charming and goofy smiles to help draw his character, but resorts too often to loud, sudden, silly shouting and exaggerated responses. Cane and Fullerton carry their parts deftly, and all three actors look terrific onstage. The problem here is a script that (after the lyrical first few minutes) is not only thick with redundancies and clichés, but also suffers from language too plain, colloquial, or meandering for the play's big topics, like life and death--or even for any play's topics. It seems like the two acts are asking to be broken up into smaller scenelets to bring some of the drama into relief. Still, the play's strongest scene, depicting the couple splitting after 15 years, hits a high note as Cane cries out, "I'm in a river, and it's not me!"

One of the best things about the show is the use of sound to transport the actors from one scene into another. When the three unlikely friends climb onto the living room couch to simulate a sailboat trip, the evocative soundscape makes for a really lovely effect, effortless and dreamy. But as a whole, Perfect Stranger's script takes the long way to arrive at its surprise ending.