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Karl Gjdusek's promising yet uneven play is about characters looking to discover themselves, and often failing.

Lisa Velten Smith and Jerry Richardson in FUBAR
(© Felix Photography)
In Karl Gjdusek's FUBAR (F****d Up Beyond All Recognition), now at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Americas Off Broadway Festival, one of the characters is writing a book "about the problem of self recognition." Naturally, that also happens to be what Gjdusek's promising yet uneven play is about. The characters in the piece are prone to self-examination, but have a hard time reconciling the images they have of themselves -- or want to have of themselves -- with the reality of both their own and others' perceptions of them.

Married couple David (Jerry Richardson) and Mary (Lisa Velten Smith) have recently relocated to San Francisco, living in the apartment left behind by Mary's mother, who committed suicide. Kevin Judge's set is stacked high with boxes the mother left behind, with cryptic labels such as "The point of the story," "crazy idea," and "something I did for another person," with several of the boxes getting opened over the course of the play. This device is cute the first couple of times it occurs, but gets annoyingly repetitious as the show goes on.

The fresh start in San Francisco initially seems liberating for David, who goes around wearing a T-shirt that says "I'm not gay, but my boyfriend is," and takes drugs supplied to him by Richard (Ryan McCarthy), an old friend with whom he's reconnected. David finds in Richard someone he can confide at least some of his fantasies and desires. "You're like a bartender but with a darker understanding," he says.

Richardson has a hangdog quality perfectly suited to David, who can't seem to overcome his insecurities despite how much he wants to. As the play goes on, he engages in more and more questionable -- and dangerous -- behavior. RIchardson endows his role with a keenly felt subtext in the show's quieter scenes, although he comes across a little too forced in his big emotional breakdown. Smith is also quite good throughout most of the show, and one of the most engaging sequences is her narrating how she was beaten on the street while she simultaneously applies bruise make-up to her face.

McCarthy projects a smugness as Richard that's grating, and the performer doesn't take his characterization much further -- particularly in his last big scene in which he should engender more audience sympathy. As Richard's wife Sylvia, Stephanie Szostak indicates her character's motivations and emotional states too broadly. Rounding out the cast is Dan Patrick Brady as DC, a boxer with whom Mary seeks out lessons following her brutal beating.

The play, directed by Larissa Kokernot, runs two hours and twenty minutes, and could use some trimming. In particular, the playwright extends the work beyond its most natural ending point with a split scene that attempts to provide a stronger sense of closure, but which instead just feels tacked on.

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