IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE. Know your enemy. How do you like them apples? One bad apple doesn't spoil the whole lot. Read 'em and weep. Let's not get carried away.

Hackneyed phrases like these are substituted for dialogue in Jenny Schwartz's one-act God's Ear, currently running at Theatre Vertigo. Schwartz has arranged them into a series of non sequiturs that are then jumbled and repeated as her two main characters struggle to deal with their son's sudden death.

It's a frustrating technique. It's a frustrating technique because anyone could do it. It's a frustrating technique because it uses a lot of words to communicate very little. It's a frustrating technique because nobody really talks that way except playwrights in love with their own voices. It's a frustrating technique because it makes me want to write the whole review like this. But I won't.

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God's Ear opens on Mel (Heather Rose Walters) and Ted (Mario Calcagno), a couple who just received the news their son is in critical condition. After that, people real and imagined form a Greek chorus around them so they don't just have each other to talk nonsense to. The supporting actors here are universally strong, especially Gary Norman as an animated GI Joe doll/transvestite flight attendant and Brooke Fletcher as a woman Ted intends to cheat with. All chew the scenery with aplomb, imbuing their roles with a sense of fun that almost makes one forgive them for talking like talking like talking like this.

These characters inhabit what looks like a bombed-out living room of a set. This landscape of blacks and blues obviously represents Ted and Mel's state of mind (complete with a pastel vortex drawn on the wall!), but the sledgehammer obviousness (and ugliness) of the set design characterizes this production. Mel and Ted's relationship is the only emotional ballast God's Ear gives the audience to hang onto, but as played by Walters, Mel is shrill and needy, while Calcagno matches her in aloof smugness. The lack of chemistry between them is what ultimately sinks this play. The death of a child is unspeakably tragic and it's easy to pity Mel and Ted, but the trick is to make the audience care for them. It's a trick God's Ear doesn't pull off.