Simon The Magus Coho Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh, 220-2646, Fri-Sat 10:30 pm, Sun 7 pm, $12
Like the Enochian text it incorporates, Simon The Magus is... difficult. A relatively short performance without intermission, Simon is an extended dramatic monologue. Simon, played by Chris Herman, is a middle-aged man on the roof of a building, vacillating between the excitement of discovering what he believes to be essential links to the meaning of existence, and utter despair over the estrangement of his drug addicted daughter.

After "conjuring" the audience with a little alchemic bucket and fire, he's off and running, set to explain the universe. Because he's... he's figured it out! See there's Monads and metaphysics! Asterisks! Simple mathematics! Astrology! Crystal balls! Simon rages around the stage, adjusting duct-taped glasses and wielding a marker, making charts and mapping equations. When he talks himself into a corner, he takes pause to reflect on the almost childlike despair he experiences in his relationship with his daughter.

It can be rewarding to wriggle inside the gears of a lunatic mind. Unfortunately, the weight of all the responsibility that comes with being profound, emotionally effective, and a little bit funny, proves too much for Simon. Watching him is quite like taking a lecture class, albeit led by a professor in the throes of a breakdown.

It's difficult to actually understand what Simon is trying to explain as he whirls around, cruising from one subject to another. Partly that's because it doesn't make much sound sense, and also because he talks a mile a minute. When he segues into a very vulnerable, highly dramatic mode, recounting something intimate, it's uncomfortable--much more so than it is moving.

The fact of the matter is that if you're going to construct a play that has this much math happening, you've got to spice it up with zinging wit. (There is a small section that's funny, but it's very short, and not as side-ache inducing as it should be.) And if there's only one character, they should be huge, flooded with color, striking in the extreme. The fact that Simon lacks these qualities makes for a trying experience--for the actor as well as the audience. MARJORIE SKINNER