As there are ostensibly only two characters in this play, its title offers the first clue that playwright Itamar Moses likes to play games with audience expectations. His clever use of nonlinear storytelling and a late-arriving narrative curve ball suggest the influence of Tom Stoppard, though in Moses' hands, these devices slip treacherously close to gimmickry. Nonetheless, this is a funny and perceptive exploration of the idiosyncrasies of male friendship and the impact of career success — or lack thereof — on such bonds. Under the assured guidance of director Michelle Tattenbaum, this quirky two-hander becomes a fine vehicle for actors Ryan Johnston and Steven Klein, who share a terrific chemistry. Moses examines lives in the pressure cooker for young creative artists who desperately yearn for the brass ring of success, pondering how the fervent pursuit of their goals might affect the artists and those dearest to them. The play begins in an Indian restaurant, where close pals Ben (Johnston) and David (Klein) are reunited to celebrate Ben's sale of the movie rights to his first novel, for a whopping $2 million. David, a struggling playwright, is astounded, and his congratulations are soon colored by not-so-subtle intimations of jealousy, undermining the achievement. The tale then shifts back and forth over 10 years, including the young men meeting at age 17, their college years, a summer vacation in Prague, and their post-college career highs and lows. Late in the play, Moses reveals new information that causes us to rethink all that went before, as a probable ripple in the long-term friendship ends the predominately humorous play on a poignant note. Klein plays suppressed insecurity extremely well. He brings much comedic nervous energy to his interpretation, adding a tension that pays off as the play moves along, giving early signals that the friendship will ultimately run into roadblocks. Johnston effectively counters Klein's approach with a cooler and calmer demeanor, which might — or might not — have been a factor in Ben's rapid career success. Mark Guirguis' cleverly conceived minimalist set enables fluid scene shifts, and Tattenbaum keeps the pace crisp and the time juxtapositions crystal-clear.
Presented by Firefly Theatre in association with VS. Theatre Company at the Elephant Theatre Lab, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Sep. 12-Oct. 19. (800) 838-3006. www.fireflyinc.com.