E.M. Lewis’ haunting drama unfolds on a set bracketed by shadowboxes filled with butterflies, bells, maps, plants and pictures of Cambodian refugees, presumably dead. Three biologists have three different views on extinction: One, a monomaniac named Ellery (Michael Shutt) is committed to preserving a Bolivian beetle; the second, Ellery’s terminally ill wife, Lily (Lori Yeghiayan), has resigned herself to her impending death, which nobody else seem to care about. death; and the third, Khim Phan (a brilliant performance of understated strength by Darrell Kunitomi), a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, tries to teach Ellery and Lily’s bitter son, Max (Will Faught), and the rest of his high school students that the eradication of a species demands reverence, regret and resignation. (As the last in his family, his own genetic tree is slated to die.) The interplay of the three in Lewis’ smart and honest script is one small push from collective transcendence, as we’re asked to tie the threads together ourselves. Lewis avoids easy sentimentality. Ellery and Lily aren’t shedding tears over the future they’ve lost; their estranged relationship is not just hollow but hostile, and we’re not sure of the root. Aided by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s fine set, director Heidi Helen Davis finds beauty in death, staging it as a boat ride into the jungle with showers of butterflies — a gorgeous counterpoint to Phan’s pronouncement that “extinction is a very messy business.” [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; through Dec. 14. (323) 461-3673.

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m. Starts: Nov. 7. Continues through Dec. 14, 2008

LA Weekly