Gillian Jacobs and Daniel Eric Gold  in cagelove
(Photo © Sandra Coudert)
Gillian Jacobs and Daniel Eric Gold
in cagelove
(Photo © Sandra Coudert)
There's plenty of flash but too little genuine passion in Christopher Denham's new play, cagelove at the Rattlestick Theater.

The flash comes from director Adam Rapp's stylish direction. But though the play has loads of kissing in it, if no nudity, there's a lack of chemistry between lead actors Gillian Jacobs and Daniel Eric Gold. That's partly because the characters they play are so artificial that their relationship can never seem real. Early on, we learn that Katie (Jacobs) was raped and beaten by her unstable ex-lover, whom she went to visit. She reaches out for love and acceptance from her fiancé, Sam (Gold), but he keeps rebuffing her. He wants to know what really happened that night; that's the mystery that drives this 90-minute psychological thriller.

There's a third character in cagelove, but it's not the ex-lover. Rather, it's Katie's competitive sister, Ellen (Emily Cass McDonnell). A bad seed out of a soap opera, she's a poorly conceived and poorly acted contrivance; she feeds information to Sam about her younger sister's past with the sole purpose of fomenting doubt and worry, then lies to Katie to undermine her confidence. Meanwhile, the unseen rapist looms with a large and frightening presence. Is he calling and leaving threats? Is he buzzing the apartment, trying to get in?

Obsessed with the mystery of what happened on the night of the rape, Sam begins to doubt Katie's love. His doubt spurs jealousy, which in turns spurs madness in him -- and this sends the play spiraling toward a finale that should be shocking yet turns out to be entirely predictable. Denham has created a crude blueprint for what could be a very effective film thriller if it were better written and were opened up with more characters and more locations.

Rapp uses light and shadow, as well as John McDermott's carefully designed apartment set, to great effect, and he has blocked the play to keep at least one of the characters in motion virtually all of the time. The ominous sound design by Eric Shim and the excellent lighting of Ed McCarthy heightens the tension and gives the play a Hitchcockian sense of danger.

Gold's Sam has the look of upwardly mobile, middle class stability and, at the same time, an undercurrent of menace. It's an effective performance as far as it goes, but Sam never comes across as a guy that Katie loves. Jacobs is an actress with tremendous potential, but she has more chemistry with the off-stage ex-boyfriend than with Gold. That's not good -- and, ultimately, neither is cagelove.