Contained in the discussion of national, homeland, and household security is our primary need for the security of our children. School days should be about innocence; the circle of home, school, and church is the secure womb we hope to provide for our families. Writer/director Shem Bitterman's haunted, terminally somber play looks through the womb's membrane into a pit of unrest, alienation, and fear—the going-along-to-get-along that defines growing up. He focuses on the danger inherent in an immature society inured to violence by the popular media and the proliferation of guns.

Jack Stehlin finely portrays Man, shattered by the random murder of his daughter (Susane E. Lee) during a prayer circle, as he searches for the reason for her death at the hands of Boy (Dylan Kussman), a loner with a giant chip on his shoulder. Man discovers much about himself as he fights a lonely battle for retribution against those who daren't or can't afford to expose their shaky faith to the reality of a society that chooses victimhood as its main defense. Man's lawsuit to bring someone to justice breaks down when his anger at the killer explodes into fury against a universal army of what he sees as defeatists, demurrers, apologists, and self-styled victims of a rapidly decaying society. Performances by Eric Pierpoint and Elise Robertson, as Boy's father and mother, are outstanding. Man loses ground as his grief becomes embarrassing, tedious, and that worst sin: uncool.

Bitterman's shout-out is agonizingly painful, coming from a too-real place, but there are no answers to the questions his characters—his mouthpieces—are posing. For that reason, the play lacks an ending and whimpers out anticlimactically, like a dying candle, as the cycle of grief, denial, and anger comes full circle in a mystical reconciliation that belies the whole conceit. This is a huge, almost unbearable concept, daring in execution, fierce in intention, but a directorial eye other than Bitterman's is needed to move the internal dramatic conflict from Man's brain to the stage.

"The Circle," presented by Circus Theatricals at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd Floor, Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Nov. 6-Dec. 18. $15-20. (310) 226-6105.