Touch

Artists Repertory Second Stage, at the IFCC, 5340 N Interstate, 241-1278,

Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through June 1, $22

T ouch begins simply--a bespectacled, slightly slouched man stands on a circular platform and addresses the audience. For twenty minutes he delivers a soliloquy about how he met, fell for and married the love of his life. He describes Zowie, a zany, extroverted woman who's passionate and willful, with the kind of detail and fondness that speaks for itself. There's an ache to the words--she's his missing half and she's gone forever, and the audience will never meet her. But we want to, we crave it, and her vivid evocation makes us keenly feel her absence. By creating that kind of nostalgia for a character that never appears onstage, Touch immediately succeeds on at least one level.

ART's production of Touch, an award-winning script by Toni Press-Coffman, focuses on Kyle, a young, introverted astronomer who's coming to terms with the rape and murder of his wife. Kyle, played seamlessly by Andres Alcala, is a man who understands the world best in scientific terms, through telescopes and calculations. It is easier for him to appreciate the abstract and negotiate feeling by thinking about black holes and the shades of a red star. He translates love just fine through these terms--but coping with loss via heavenly metaphor proves much more difficult. Touch draws on the classic rational--scientist-in-irrational-love motif--and yet it escapes the predictable clichés by wholeheartedly and convincingly devoting itself to the process Kyle's character undergoes, from ecstatic love, to a grief that shuts out the world, to the cold comfort found in strangers.

Touch captures its audience through the old-fashioned art of storytelling--one or two people recreating the way things happened, giving their own version of events. Kyle's opening monologue takes us up to the night his wife disappeared, but as his grief starts to distort his perceptions, his best friend Benny (Tim True) and his sister-in-law Serena (Kristen Martha Brown) enter the scene, filling in details, and moving the action along with virtually no set or props--just a nice light design and intriguing narrative. Touch, however, is most absorbing when it's just Kyle on stage, honest and exposed, struggling to make palpable the intangibles of love and loss. ANNA SIMON

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