Profile Theatre devotes every season to the work of one specific playwright, and the results are generally perfectly adequate. Their current show is an unfortunate exception to the rule: A Few Stout Individuals, the second full-length production in their John Guare season, is absolutely excruciating.

It's 1885, and Ulysses S. Grant (Tobias Anderson) is no longer a shining Civil War general, nor a slightly-less-shining US President. A bad financial deal ruined the family, and Grant is ailing, confined to a wheelchair, and so drugged that he doesn't know if he's coming or going. Enter Samuel Clemens (Thom Bray), with an offer to publish Grant's memoirs, restoring his name and his former wealth. Unfortunately, getting around the distractions of the Grant family—and Grant's own haze of selective memory—proves challenging.

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It's a true story, and a potentially interesting one—but playwright John Guare wasn't able to get his arms around it and wrote a muddled, overlong mess. As Clemens tries to coax Grant's memoirs out of the old man, so we see Guare try to coax a commissioned script out of a head stuffed full of ideas with no unifying thread.

It's clear that everyone onstage is doing their damnedest to keep the audience entertained—but Profile and director Pam Sterling are no match for this ordeal of a script. Sterling has given her actors direction they can't or don't understand, and they meander about the stage with little regard for the characters they've slapped together. True emotion and intensity are traded in for shouting, and the only actors who seem to possess some understanding of nuance and subtlety are Anderson and Bray—both of whom deserve at least slight praise for their efforts. Bray, because he more-than-competently filled in at the last minute after the original actor fell ill, and Anderson because he spends most of the production in a wheelchair under a blanket—and didn't once fall asleep while the other actors were talking.

Early on, Guare requested that Profile produce this play as a staged reading, not a full production. It seems even the playwright knew better, and Profile should have listened.