On a summer day in 1995, David (Matt Letscher) receives a message from an old high school friend, Gordon (Jonathan Scarfe). Handed the queen of spades, David imagines within the card the haunted face of a woman he's seen only once.
Quitting his dead-end job as a newspaper proofreader, David returns to his hometown of Vancouver to meet with two old friends in this sleek production of Robert William Sherwood's psychological thriller "Absolution," at the Court Theatre.
Once the golden boy, David has become a loner locked inside "a state of moral purgatory." Gordon, now a ruthless rich businessman with an icy trophy wife (Elizabeth Mitchell), tells him that another friend, born-again Christian Peter (Christian J. Meoli), is seeking absolution, asking them to publicly confess their crime--the brutal rape and murder of an unidentified woman during a drunken party 15 years ago.
Director Willard Carroll's interpretation is so cold and intellectual that the ending comes as too much of a surprise. Letscher and Mitchell move and mouth their lines with impassive grace against Scarfe's fiery bluster and Meoli's whining guilt.
The stark lines of Jim Dultz and Pipo Wintter's minimalist set suggest a bleakness that is given a seductive appeal by the lighting design of Vilmos Zsigmond and Robert Jason.
Despite the faults, the disturbing question of a world without belief--where the Bible is mere "hearsay"--is still hauntingly evoked by this stylish production.
* "Absolution," Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends April 11. $22-28. (310) 289-2999. Running time: 1 hour,30 minutes.