Despite an appealing performance by Elaine Rivkin and Samuel C. Ball's superb scenic design, John Belluso's awkward fusion of love story and health-care polemic remains lifeless. In this midwest premiere, director Tim Farrell exacerbates the script's problems by focusing on a peripheral character, a conscience-stricken HMO doctor (overplayed by Melissa Carlson), instead of its central characters: a resourceful working-class mother (Rivkin) and her paraplegic lover (well played by Aaron Roman Weiner). The woman's choice between the man she loves and the medical care she needs might make a decent play, but her story as seen by the doctor--who's given to discussing "splinters of connection," perhaps the worst metaphor ever--is just tedious. Problems with health care may well be attributable to the system rather than individuals, but systems are weak dramatic players. Inept writing like Belluso's gives agitprop a bad name. Through 11/14: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 5:30 and 9 PM, Sun 2:30 PM. Victory Gardens Theater, second-floor main stage, 2257 N. Lincoln, 773-871-3000 (TTY 773-871-0682). $25-$28.