Unlike the typical Baltimore Playwrights Festival play -- or for that matter, the typical realistic American drama -- AXIS Theatre's "From Vision to Inheritance" is non-naturalistic, non-linear and highly stylized.
It is also a production whose reach exceeds its grasp. But you have to give credit to its daring, ambitious playwright -- who is also its director and designer, as well as the AXIS artistic director -- Brian Klaas.
The first indication of the departure from television-style realism comes in the program, which lists three actors as "Chorus." They are the first performers we see on Klaas' abstract set, whose central feature is a pink rectangular platform stretching diagonally across the stage.
The chorus members begin this play-with-music by moving in synchronized motions while singing John McDanolds' original score, which is another of the production's ambitious components. The score sounds reminiscent of John Adams, though its quality would be easier to gauge if the chorus members were better singers. Its lyrics include references to the hunger of desire and to the past -- two of the play's recurring themes.
As the play progresses, passages of choral speech are interspersed with soliloquies and conventional dialogue. Much of the text is written in poetic language that includes repetitive phrases.
The most non-naturalistic element of all, however, is the purgatory-like setting. Identified as a "holding ground," it is presided over by a character called the Watchman (played by Mary Anne Perry in white face), who explains that this is where the dead get a chance "to tie up the loose ends" of their lives.
Trapped in this holding ground, the protagonist, Bruce (Brian H. Reynolds), flashes back to his life on earth. Eventually, he is joined in purgatory by his wife (Marietta Hedges) and best friend (Jack Manion), who also apparently need to tie up loose ends -- although the wife is still among the living.
Bruce is the only fully developed character, however, and his journey of self-discovery is the sole plot line. Combined with the play's 65-minute length, this makes "From Vision to Inheritance" feel more like a one-act play than a full-fledged evening of theater.
The focus on Bruce also contributes to another problem. Because we barely know Bruce's wife, her climactic action seems, at best, far-fetched and, at worst, somewhat misogynistic.
Yet, though this is clearly Bruce's play, its resolution occurs not when he comes to terms with his actions, but when his wife does.
Given the limited development of their characters, Hedges and pTC Manion manage to lend some believability to the roles of the wife and friend. As Bruce, Reynolds is portraying a man who wavers, and that quality comes through. Playwright Klaas, however, should have restrained director Klaas from heavy-handedly posing Reynolds with his arms outstretched, crucifixion-style, in the scene in which he describes how it feels to die.
Admirable as its ambition may be, "From Vision to Inheritance" is a work whose subject is less intriguing than its form, and whose form is a bit too challenging for even this usually adept, cutting-edge company.
What: "From Vision to Inheritance"
Where: AXIS Theatre, 3600 Clipper Mill Road
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, through July 24
Call: (410) 243-5237