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BETTER LIVING, Open Eye Productions, at A Red Orchid Theatre. Tucked deep in George F. Walker's black comedy are a few moments of recognizable human behavior. But in keeping with so much contemporary playwriting, the rest of the work is so overwrought, portentous, and quirky that it may as well be set on another planet. Ten years ago Tom walked out on his wife and three daughters. These days mom spends all her time digging out a room under the backyard and speaking in semimystical gibberish while daughter Elizabeth acts like a lawyer, daughter Mary Ann acts anxious, and daughter Gail does nothing in particular. When Tom reappears, everyone gets hysterical on a regular basis.

The few human moments in Walker's wearisome play are lost in director Adam D. Burke's flat, awkward production. For most of the first act the cast seem uncommitted to the action and disconnected from one another, and Burke directs as though we were idiots--at one point Gail traps Elizabeth behind a door, which Elizabeth freely opens five minutes later. In the second act the performers begin to find honest connections, but by then Walker's script has gone so far afield--Tom wants to create a utopia of "consumer socialism" in the backyard hole, while most of the other characters mouth a lot of ersatz social commentary--that no amount of brilliant acting could get it back on track. --Justin Hayford

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