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Blind Faith, Smilin' O Productions, at Acme Theater. This rip-roaring production of Sean Farrell's new play, crisply directed by Andrea J. Dymond, is in every sense, as one audience member remarked, "the hottest theater in town!"

Notwithstanding 90-degree heat inside Acme's tiny second-floor space, this tale of two women meeting for a "treatment"--an ambiguous term embracing both therapy and screenwriting--is completely absorbing. Danica Ivancevic plays Liza, the intruder, with ferocious brilliance, while Beth Lacke is quietly convincing as her foil, Mary. Their elliptical conversations and sudden eruptions into violence suggest Harold Pinter, their mysterious identity transference echoes Ingmar Bergman's Persona, but the work feels utterly fresh and vivid. Though Farrell's subject--the loss of identity, self-respect, loved ones, and faith--is grim, his wisecracks keep drama from degenerating into melodrama: when Mary says she's not a doctor but a psychotherapist, Liza snaps, "Psychotherapy is squash for people who suck at tennis!" The text is beautifully layered, with allusions and double meanings attached to everything, including the fish that religious fanatic Mary doodles while listening to Liza's "fishy" tale.

To say more would ruin the anticipation that permeates every moment of the piece, which lies in the finest tradition of off-Loop spit-and-chewing-gum Chicago theater. Kudos to all concerned, including the uncredited set designer whose scrim "window" enhances the doubling effect by keeping both characters constantly visible and to lighting designer Andrew Meyers, whose work fluidly reflects the dialogue's shifting tones.

--Kelly Kleiman

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