In Ian M. McDonald’s absurdist comedy, eight strangers wake up on the 50th floor of a high-rise with no escape. Sounds like the first episode of a reality show — and for much of the first act, it feels like one, as the characters argue ideas without listening to anybody else. But as their self-involvement starts to expose their self-interests, McDonald’s apocalyptic Act 2 comes into focus. The one pragmatist (Jo Ann Mendelson) realizes that their world is crumbling and no one else cares. The spiritualist (Rebecca Lynch) invents a god, the artist (Ryan J. Hill) touts his shallow art, the athlete (Sean Patrick) is useless, the scientist (Tim Sheridan) is focused on trivia instead of solutions, and the politicians (Nick Parmer and Troy Matthews) would rather squabble over the kitchen paint job, when the walls are tumbling down. McDonald’s characters are too scatterbrained for their ideas to crescendo into an interesting conflict, but the bigger issue is that director Rae Williams substitutes madness for absurdism: The former can be delivered shrieking, which it is in abundance; the latter is most convincing when it arrives with a straight face — and that’s what’s missing here. Tempered and sharpened, this could be a play of obvious but cutthroat intent rather than just a gaggle of screamers running in circles.

Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Starts: Sept. 13. Continues through Oct. 5, 2008

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