Artists Repertory Theatre, 1516 SW Alder 241-1278, runs Tues-Thurs, Sun 7pm, Fri-Sat 8 pm, through Dec 22, $15-30

There is much to admire about writer/director Michael Lasswell's Honey in the Horn, including his set, which uses an amazingly versatile network of rolling flats to move through a whole novel's worth of places and times from the Oregon pioneer days. Its flexibility is crucial, for Lasswell is clearly in love with his source material, H.L. Davis' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, and appears to have adapted almost every word of the original text to the page. The cast of eight rolls the flats frantically and uses them creatively to keep pace with the rolling river of plot twists and scene changes that ensue. They come close, but the story ultimately overwhelms them, muddling within the first 10 minutes, then charging forth like a freight train and never using one second of the next three hours to clarify itself.

Somewhere in there is the tale of a man named Clay (Mark Schwahn) and his love affair with a woman named Luce (the wonderful Christine Calfas), but it's pretty hard to see it through the thick haze of fake endings and chase scenes. It's also exhausting for both the audience and the actors.

The play certainly demands a strong work ethic, but the actors still have a great time with Lasswell's script, which borrows heavily from the storytelling tradition. The actors get to interact directly with the audience, play a huge slew of different characters, and best of all, rampantly manipulate objects. Part of storytelling is using simple objects to convey complex forms, and the cast transforms all kinds of furniture, cloth, and utensils into a whole array of animals, weapons, and costumes. A scene near the end involving a deathly horse-drawn carriage accident is amazingly powerful and sad, and it's all done with some crates, two broomsticks, and a couple of gunny sacks.

Such highly inventive scenes prove that Lasswell is a playmaker to watch. His energy runs through this production like electricity. Only problem is he hasn't harnessed it yet. In the future he will learn to control it, and his audiences will be pleasantly plugged in instead of slowly burned out. JUSTIN SANDERS