Last June, Hugo House decided to stop renting its theater to whoever wanted to put on a show and, instead, cultivate two resident companies. The terms: In exchange for $10,000 a year, the residents would get rehearsal, storage, office, and performance space for two years.

Well-known itinerant companies lined up for the residency: Annex Theatre, Macha Monkey, Strawberry Theatre Workshop (which later won a Stranger Genius Award), and so on. But Hugo House upset expectations by snubbing the favorites and choosing two dark horses: Next Stage, a brand-new company, and SIS Productions, an Asian-American company best known for its serial comedy Sex in Seattle.

Last week, SIS opened BFE, a regular play—running through March 16—and the first outing by either of Hugo House's new residents. (Next Stage will open its first play, Demonology, in March.) So was it any good? Well, if by "good" you mean "virtuous," then yes. If by "good" you mean "an experience you'd like to repeat," then no.

A play about Panny, a 14-year-old Korean girl living in mid-America, BFE (short for Bumfuck, Egypt) spent years drifting through workshop after workshop, and it shows: not enough focus, too many subplots, and a brief, fourth-quarter appearance by a serial killer who is more symbol than substance. (Panny's mother keeps pushing her to get plastic surgery even though she doesn't need it; the serial killer mutilates high-school girls—get it?) The production doesn't improve on the script: Halting, drama-free actors and excruciatingly long pauses slow the production's heartbeat (and time itself) interminably. One desires nothing more than the judicious application of a defibrillator.

Which is painful to admit. SIS is earnest and well-intentioned, the kind of company you want to grade on a curve. The company created Sex in Seattle to trick young Asian audiences into watching theater: Come for the sex comedy, stay for the plays. The first part worked—Sex in Seattle is currently running reruns of its first 14 episodes—but the second is trickier.

Kathy Hsieh, SIS's articulate artistic director, says it's difficult to find quality scripts about contemporary Asian Americans. (No internment or railroad plays need apply.) And, she admits, there's a dearth of excellent Asian-American actors and directors—in part because they don't get hired unless theaters need a token Asian. So Hsieh ferrets out promising new writers and purposefully casts green actors alongside more experienced ones. Half the cast of BFE, Hsieh explains diplomatically, is "not very experienced."

"We want to cultivate people who will get hired elsewhere," she says, "not because they're Asian American, but because they're good."

Too bad good isn't always good. recommended