Why do bad things happen to good people? How is it that God not only allows suffering but often appears to engineer it? These existential conundrums, plus a bevy of theological issues about Jesus, abound in playwright Keith Bunin’s weighty, wordy play structured around an Episcopalian minister named Hannah (Judy Jean Berns), her assistant, Brandt (Josh Mann), and her prodigal son, Thomas (Robert Hardin). Long a widow, Hannah spends much time absorbed in Biblical scholarship, and has hired Brandt to ghostwrite a book about a recently uncovered gospel. Fiercely resentful of his mom, Thomas has recently returned home after one of his many wild escapades, in time to fall in love with the shy soft-spoken young writer. The liberal-minded Hannah accepts their relationship and even encourages it, but Thomas remains inexplicably hostile toward her. Indeed, one of the play’s prominent flaws is that it’s never clear why Thomas is so angry; here and elsewhere, the writer’s blueprint for conflict is evident, while the whys and wherefores are not. The problem is exacerbated by Hardin’s display of untempered machismo and, later, grimaced expressions, under Richard Kilroy’s direction. While he lacks range, Mann’s circumscribed performance at least comes across as honest. It’s left to Berns, in the trickiest and most intellectual of the three roles, to shoulder the drama’s emotional weight, which she does with finesse. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 14. (323) 960-5770.

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

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