In an unspecified time and place, two prisoners (Singleton as Wallace and Kirkwood as Valdez) are held captive for no apparent reason and are frequently subjected to torture. Locked into near-adjoining cells but never having seen each other, the two men pass the time playing verbal games, sharing fanciful memories of trips to the ocean, trying to interpret sounds as clues to their whereabouts, and attempting to plan an escape. The agitated Wallace indulges in idiosyncratic intellectual musings, while Valdez communicates on a more down-to-earth level. When the guard (Dickerman) enters, he at first seems like a fiendish sociopath, yet he eventually confesses to the difficult time he has doing his job. In a grisly but hilarious speech, he describes his fantasies about finding ways of reducing the pain he faces when inflicting suffering on others. At last, the prisoners see a spark of hope that escape might be possible.
In the most difficult role, Singleton masters Wallace's dizzying shifts in thought, deftly conveying the character's blustery front and suppressed vulnerability. Kirkwood likewise gives a heart-rending portrayal, while mining his role for its rich comic undercurrents. Dickerman earns the biggest laughs in his forceful portrayal of an imposing thug with a surprising soft spot.
Desma Murphy's scenic design, Jeremy Pivnick's lighting, Elizabeth Brand's costumes, and David B. Marling's sound provide a perfectly chilling ambiance for Wright's first-rate production of his thought-provoking work.
Presented by and at the Road Theatre, Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. June 10–Aug. 22. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (866) 811-4111 or www.roadtheatre.org.