Stark Raving at the Coho Theatre, 2257 NW Raleigh, 232-7072, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, $10-$15

A good example of relevant theatrical nudity can be found in Peter Shaffer's Equus, during a sex scene between a stable boy and a girl in the barn with the horses. The nudity is relevant, and even necessary because the boy's character development is dictated by his relationship with sex and horses.

Stark Raving's Darkstep and Dawning (a title itself loaded with stylistic excess) looks great on the stage, has a gorgeous musical score, and for good measure throws in an irrelevant nude scene that feels like it goes on for ten years.

It's too bad, because the core idea for Darkstep is fairly interesting. It opens with two men bitching at each other in a mordernistic living room. One's older, a burnt out surgeon (Todd Van Voris) named Colin who quit because his hands were shaky, and the other's a comparatively young whippersnapper (Neil Starbird) named Aaron who seems to be hanging around just to make Colin's life miserable. Playwright Matthew Zrebski is smart with these opening scenes, revealing the history of the men's relationship slowly and carefully, and intersplicing flashbacks of a relationship Aaron once had with a mysterious girl named Fanny (Michelle Seaton). Zrebski makes you want to know how Fanny and Aaron of the past connect to Aaron and Colin of the present, and also what happened to make Colin's hands shake. The first act of the play zips along at a nice, suspenseful pace.

The second act starts to reveal things, but with painful awkwardness. The setting of the revelations, a dimly lit room in a cabin somewhere, is confusingly executed, and the connections that finally emerge between the characters are contrived and not nearly as interesting as early scenes promised. The chemistry between Starbird and Seaton is lukewarm at best and during the tacked on aforementioned nudity scene, downright uncomfortable.

The title of this production screams soap opera, and despite its best arty-nudistic efforts, it is one, and not a very sordid one at that. JUSTIN SANDERS