It's not difficult to draw parallels between the pre-war reminiscences in Kit Steinkellner's world premiere, set in an unspecified time and place somewhat like the United States, and recorded recollections of life in pre-Nazi Germany. White vans loom outside houses, foreshadowing the apparitions the victims will become when they're forced to surrender. Families splinter when one decides if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Neighbors revert to a "survival of the first" mode, dialing the authorities upon suspicion that someone might be about to drop a dime on them. While the opening scene, in which Paige Lindsey White's guard viciously sneers and straddles the silent, pallid Prisoner (Emmalinda MacLean), sets off an inward alarm (not more torture porn, you groan), Steinkellner smartly leaves most of the terror to your imagination. She and director Louise Hung also rely on the audience to be smart; scenes past, present and outside time seem to be shuffled and played as they land, entrusting you to arrange the action mentally. Still, in less capable hands, this could be the kind of cringe-worthy play marked by sequential confusion. But the exceptional ensemble gives up only enough to ensure that you continue to follow the bread trail they leave as they wind you further and further into this tangled forest. What you find when you reach the last crumb is nothing so horrific as the Holocaust, but something that still reminds you that the heart and mind are often at odds. One's just more convincing than the other, and predicting which will win is a losing game. Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 10, 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (310) 396-3680.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 10, 8 p.m. Starts: Oct. 21. Continues through Nov. 13, 2010