Mutineer Theatre Company makes an impressive debut with Keith Bridges’ pitch-black new play. The verb in the title is deliberate double entendre in a drama about a family that keeps deflecting the consequences of their hideous behavior in matters of both sexuality and honesty. The device of a matriarch (Emily Morrison) slowly dying in an upstage cot is the only reason her daughters would come anywhere near the home where they grew up, and where their father, Stan (Christian Lebano), had a lingering sexual relationship with one of them, Carla (Taylor Coffman). The now adult young women are like far-flung satellites whom Stan struggles to bring home in order to say whatever needs to be said to their fading mother. It takes an interloper — Carla’s boyfriend, Ian (Jon Cohn) — to provide a perspective on the “gentle” abuse (Carla was not raped or forced by her dad to engage in sex with him) that have transpired in this house. Both daughters now seethe with fury, and not only at their father. Young Susan (Amber Hamilton) cuts herself and tries to hit on Ian, just to spite Carla. Susan’s envy of the attention Carla received from her father is one place where Bridges’ drama slips off the rails. And the redundancy of Stan’s earnest, plaintive appeals to both daughters (“Why do you hate me so much? What did I do?”) would be more credible from an emotional dope, but those appeals become theadbare from such an otherwise savvy character. The play’s enormous strength lies in its smart, well-observed dialogue, how its characters deflect painful truths in moody, merciless games of emotional torture, how brash cynicism becomes a line of defense. “I’ll be here if you need me,” Ian tells Carla in one of their many spats. “Need?” she spits back, contemptuously. The performances are truer than true, particularly the women’s ferocity (they are like wounded animals) and how Lebano turns Stan’s endless rationalizations into a kind of psychosis. None of this would ring true without Joe Banno’s textured, cinematic staging, which helps eek out the mystery, drop by drop, with the help of Davis Campbell’s detailed set and the theological bridges of sound designer James Richter’s original music. Art/Works Theatre 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 5. (323) 960-7787.

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: March 7. Continues through April 5, 2009

LA Weekly