Playwright-director Daniel Talbott doesn't make it easy for us. He tells his story in a defiantly nonlinear fashion, making multiple references to offstage characters we know little or nothing about. He explains nothing and ends his play with a non sequitur. But despite this obfuscation, he keeps us fascinated: He presents us with the puzzle pieces and leaves it to us to put them together. His central character -- one can't call him a hero -- is Eli (Seth Numrich), a seriously troubled young gay man. He pursues sexual encounters but fears real intimacy. He blames his mother, Jan (Wendy vanden Heuvel), for being unfaithful to his father, whom he loves but despises for his ineffectuality. He practices self-mutilation and, predictably, falls in love with Chris (Maxwell Hamilton), a self-hating homophobe, who loathes his attraction to Eli and transforms it into violence. And when Eli encounters classmate Jake (MacLeod Andrews), who honestly and forthrightly loves him, he sabotages the relationship. The piece -- the first work by the L.A. branch of New York company Rattlestick Playwrights Theater -- emerges as a hip, savvy study of emotional and sexual ambivalence, beautifully directed and acted by a terrific ensemble. Hamilton is particularly striking as the tragically conflicted Chris, who helplessly reveals his homosexual feelings even while strenuously denying them. Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; through May 5. (800) 838-3006,
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m. Starts: April 4. Continues through May 5, 2013

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