Life Separates Us, Cousin Billy Plays and Van Chester Productions, at Chicago Actors Studio. Playwright-director Sean Farrell is obviously still struggling to make sense of the mismatched puzzle pieces of 9/11. Not surprisingly, then, his attempt to define one character's crisis of faith in the wake of that event is his latest work's least compelling element, mostly an addendum to a penetrating investigation of the skepticism permeating modern faith.
Life Separates Us--like Farrell's last full-length play, Blind Faith--treats therapy as a cultish religion and dances around the sexual titillation of violent acts. But in this case Farrell--who's previously concentrated on pieces for one or two actors--branches out and writes for six. Unfortunately there's only enough material for four, and the least defined characters--a wide-eyed teacher and his assertive wife--lose out. Moments of startling acuity in the tug-of-war between the other two couples are offset by occasional dialogue in the falsified, chin-up cadences of soap operas and popcorn flicks.
Bold, finely etched performances by all the cast members--but especially Bill Ryan and Erica Peregrine as a slimeball lawyer and his button-pushing wife--almost counterbalance the off-kilter script. But the play is more than a spit shine away from being finished: before searching for answers, Farrell needs to figure out what questions he's asking.