First-time playwright Leonard Manzella based this affecting drama on his experience as a psychotherapist working in the California prison system. Tom (John Nielson) is a recovering alcoholic assigned to run therapy sessions for the mentally ill. The group, an assortment of schizophrenics and psychotic killers, is caged in “therapeutic modules” the size of phone booths. Suspended two years prior for his role in an inmate's suicide, Tom carries his own baggage, a point maliciously driven home to him by the ward's mean-tempered security guard, Officer Caine (an excellent Matt Kirkwood). Writing about appalling conditions in California prisons, including the abuse of power, Manzella nonetheless is less concerned with political statements than he is with the commonality of human passions, within prison walls and without. A solid supporting ensemble invests the gritty dialogue and the inmates' heinous narratives with persuasive life; especially notable is Jemal McNeil as the split-personality convict whose higher self reaches out for help, with tragic results. As Tom, however, Nielson plays too much of his character's disaffection and not enough of his torment. Even less probing is Arlene Santana's performance as a young therapist who betrays her own ideals. Jon Lawrence Rivera directs. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 1. (800) 838-3006,

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 11, 2 p.m. Starts: March 9. Continues through April 1, 2012

LA Weekly