We all know the hold that a charismatic teacher can exert on his or her acolytes, but we never get a real sense of the departed Stella Burden. The five-member troupe continues to regard her few remaining relics -- an unopened letter, a small statue of a tiger carved out of soap, a loaded gun housed in a birdcage -- as powerful talismans, as they dutifully perform prescribed exercises that hint at her willingness to wrest emotion at any cost.
Among these true believers, however, there's a disappointing dearth of dish. They go about their routines and rehearsals near-robotically. Moreover, even a further funny wrinkle -- they're preparing A Streetcar Named Desire sans Blanche, Stanley, Stella, or Mitch -- doesn't yield as many laughs as one might wish.
Academic references are scattered throughout this study, which indulges in trendy meta-layering, but they're insufficiently spoofed. Survivors of the nonsense that pervaded earnest endeavors of this ilk at the height of the counterculture may find the satire especially scant.
Still, some of the performers do get a chance to shine, such as Lana Lesley (got up like vintage Mackenzie Phillips by costume designer Katey Gilligan) confessing how inferior she felt as a neophyte member, or Thomas Graves reenacting his initial audition while crouched beneath a chair, or later abandoning a formal lecture to execute a crazed dance.
And while the reason for the actors' oddly synchronized movements will be revealed by show's end, it's a coup de neo-cirque, not a denouement that a 1970s troupe would likely have devised.
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