Airsick, Nimbus Theatre, at National Pastime Theater. There's a lot of this stuff going around (Craig Lucas's Reckless is the prime suspect for contagion). Peter Buchman's Airsick, commissioned last year by A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle, typifies the genre: lazy writing drunk on its own metaphors that arbitrarily leads quirky characters to a thuddingly gratuitous feel-good conclusion. But then if the writer took his creatures' problems as seriously as he does his 12-step solutions, Airsick wouldn't be so delightfully manipulative, so moronically crammed with wishful thinking.

Set in Providence, Rhode Island, the contrived Airsick assembles five dysfunctional oddballs beset by various fears: a paranoid lawyer who's eager to jump but afraid to "fly" (it's best not to get literal here), the gun-slinging dame who resolves to restore him to equilibrium, an insurance agent who lives to peep at her, his dotty psychic mother, and her reluctant boyfriend, a defrocked skydiving teacher who believes he killed the lawyer. The sheer improbability of the characters' screwball symbioses is meant to delight. But that requires a brisker pace and a lighter touch than Charles Constant gives Nimbus Theatre's midwest-premiere production, which moves slowly enough that even the least attentive audience member will be able to trace the plot holes as they form.

John Cohen plays the loser lawyer with so much realism that his phobias seem pathological, not the daffy difficulties Buchman imagines. The rest of the cast struggle so sincerely with their zany roles that the play begins to appear not a modern-day Alice in Wonderland but a collective cry for help. Help.

--Lawrence Bommer

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