defunkt theatre at the Back Door Theatre, 4319 SE Hawthorne, 993-9062, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 4 pm, $10-$15

J ames Moore's feature-length dramatic writing debut, Cart, tells the story of three squatters who shack up in a seemingly uninhabited house. The history between the threesome is difficult to make sense of, but what is clear is that Rick (Rollin Carlson) is obsessed with a grocery cart that mangled his car. Highly satisfying scenes where Rick uses an aluminum bat to beat the cart contribute to a general sense of chaos within the house. Strange things happen. The house's alleged caretaker (Paul Jonathan Susi) arrives, and Rick quickly kills him, allegedly for accusing him of "talking like his words are written down." Later, the caretaker comes back to life and gets killed again, and then gets killed again.

It's not easy to make sense of Moore's bizarre series of events, which is kind of the point. The characters struggle to determine what is real and what isn't, and the audience struggles along with them. The very format of the play suggests a sense of shifty reality. The characters frequently seem to be aware that they are, well, characters in a play, and as their mental states begin to twist, so do the technical aspects of the production. Lights flash, strange sound effects occur independently from the action, and it all works to blur the boundaries between reality, and reality within theatrical reality.

As Rick, Rollin Carlson is perfect. He shuffles sadly, with a face perplexed by the world around him. The violence within him seems more desperate than dangerous. As his fellow squatter, Macy, Peter Buonincontro has a much more sinister energy, and Grace Carter, the girl of the group, as Danna, has successfully transformed herself from the picture of winsome femininity to a tomboyish scamp.

These performances alone make the play worth seeing, even if you don't entirely understand what's happening. I didn't, but I enjoyed trying to understand it, and I enjoyed the wicked humor of the show, as well as the way it toys with theatrical conventions. Moore is clearly inspired by and borrowing from many of the great surrealists--Shepard, Pinter, Charles Mee--but that doesn't mean he hasn't created something entirely new and original. JUSTIN SANDERS

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