With its story of a young woman who goes missing and the inability of the police to determine whether she left of her own volition or met with foul play, Phyllis Nagy's 1995 drama "Disappeared" joins the ranks of contemporary dramas such as Bryony Lavery's "Frozen," yet it's sui generis, meshing existential drama with black comedy. Director Dave Barton's staging is long on atmosphere yet sticks to the nitty-gritty of Nagy's text. The play's various New York City locales are boosted by Christopher Basile and Alexander Price's well-detailed scenic design. The real litmus test, though, lies with Barton's octet of actors and how well their work realizes a script in which characterization is everything.
The two pivotal roles, Sarah and Elston, are ideally cast and played. With Jennifer Pierce, we're never in doubt that Sarah is a disarmingly candid free spirit who feels hemmed in by her hard-charging mom (Susan E. Taylor) and kindhearted, laid-back boyfriend (Jeffrey Kieviet). Pierce also solidifies the ambiguities of a young woman who'd love to carve a new life for herself yet who's resigned to the limitations of her present, humdrum existence. Robert Dean Nunez has the even more difficult task of essaying Elston, who must seem innocuous yet be unpredictable enough that we're able to picture him as capable of committing murder. Nunez achieves both traits, creating an elaborately detailed portrait of an eccentric loner who appears harmless but whose habit of snaring others in his web of loquacity could be a mask for something more sinister.
Filling in around the edges are solid portrayals by Taylor and Kieviet, and by Christopher Basile as Sarah's bar-owner friend, Jack; Karen Kahler as Elston's formal, and formidable, boss; Stan Morrow as an attorney whom Elston awkwardly impersonates; and Rick Kopps as the gruff, burned-out cop charged with solving the mystery of Sarah's disappearance.
Presented by and at Monkey Wrench Collective, 204 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton. April 15–May 22. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (714) 525-1400 or www.monkeywrenchcollective.org.