Human truth hides amid the bright invention of "An Infinite Ache" in its local premiere at the Black Dahlia. David Schulner's mercurial study of a modern marriage is a deft populist construct with wisdom at its core.
"Ache" concerns Charles (Steven Klein) and Hope (Suzy Nakamura), introduced at his L.A. studio apartment. Their first date has been a bust, and the strained banter bodes ill for a future together. Except that tipsy Hope takes a nap before braving the freeways, leaving Charles to envision what might yet be.
Thus, assisted by Craig Siebels' telescoping set, Charles and Hope stride across the years (sometimes in mid-sentence), enduring heartbreak and estrangement to wind up reconciled in a touching deathbed scene. The enigmatic epilogue suggests a return to an unfulfilled present, or a flashback from the end of a predestined union.
From its South Coast Rep commission and 2001 Long Wharf debut, through increasingly frequent regional productions, critics have likened this two-hander to Jan de Hartog's "The Fourposter." Well, yes, but Schulner's mastery of modern idiom and structural ingenuity is more suggestive of his mentor Craig Lucas.
Director Robin Larsen sustains a sure touch on the shifting complexities. Besides Siebels' remarkable achievement in resourceful design, Mike Durst's lighting, Janet Teller's costumes and the sound by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes have seamless unity.
Moreover, Klein and Nakamura are sublime, compelling even when playing older than they can appear without makeup, wigs or hats. Their inspired collaboration supplies the soul of "An Infinite Ache," creating a funny, poignant affair to remember.
'An Infinite Ache'
Where: Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 Pico Blvd., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays
Ends: Oct. 24
Contact: (866) 468-3399 or www.thedahlia.com
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes