Where all too many performers pummel their audiences with alienating stylistic innovations, keeping people at a safe distance, writer-performer Barrie Cole plays with her medium to draw her audience closer. One of the first pieces I saw her perform was a short monologue, "The Else," packed with Gertrude Stein-ian linguistic pyrotechnics. Yet for all the sophisticated, sometimes baffling wordplay, Cole never lost her emotional connection with the audience. Even more impressive, she never let her story get away from her. Her latest play--The Jazzterpiece, in which she does not perform--is similarly rich, at once serious and playful, formally challenging and emotionally persuasive. Three wounded urbanites--a woman who has an emotional breakdown in yoga class, her emotionally distant jazz-fanatic significant other, and an unemployed, burned-out anthropologist--come together when the anthropologist and the S.O. become obsessed with making the jazz mix tape of all time, their "jazzterpiece." But what makes Cole's script remarkable is not the narrative; it's how well she utilizes her usual performance strategies: long, digressive monologues; quirky songs; and outrageous stage pictures (one woman fruitlessly applies a breast pump). These create the kind of well-developed characters (ably played by KellyAnn Corcoran, Julie Caffey, and Jeffrey Letterly) we--sadly--expect only in mainstream theater. No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood, 773-274-6660. Through October 24: Fridays, 7:30 PM. $12 or "pay what you can."