HOPSCOTCH, Big Deal Ensemble, at Voltaire. In this 35-minute one-act by Israel Horovitz (author of the brutal urban parable The Indian Wants the Bronx), a playground is the neutral setting for a partisan encounter between a young man and woman. As in many of Horovitz's taut one-acts, this meeting between "strangers" builds to an overdue reckoning: hard-boiled Elsa tries to prettify her current life, and Will--who turns out to be a figure from her past--intimidates her, accusing her of playing hopscotch like a "retarded hooker." He's there on unfinished business--to face Elsa, if not apologize, after wrecking her life when she was a teen.
But sadly, revelations that seemed bold 30 years ago seem halfhearted today. Susan Buntrock's too-steady staging makes them matter even less; the singsong, tennis-match exchanges between Kelly Souter's maddeningly mumbling Elsa and Michael Carroll's vaguely thuggish Will make this a case of emoting by the numbers. (Does anyone teach diction anymore?) Souter's petulant whining and mush-mouthed hysterics suggest a sorrow no deeper than a canceled credit card, and Carroll's lout maintains almost as little mystery. No one here made choices about when or how to reveal the secrets that separate these two, and everything's said either fast or slow, loud or soft; subtext is nowhere.