Sex and Other Collisions

Presented by Assembly at the Currican Theater, 154 W. 29 St., NYC, June 7-23.

It's fitting that Trista Baldwin's new play, "Sex and Other Collisions," is set on the edge of a lonesome highway. The strained relationships at the core of the play are like car wrecks on the side of the road—painful and at the same time fascinating to onlookers. You can't turn your attention away from Baldwin's characters, no matter how hard they make you want to avert your eyes.

An Arizona community is under attack by a serial killer on the eve of the millennium, but what's equally unsettling are the closer-to-home problems among the couples who live there. Stu (Peter Humer) pretends his new marriage to mail-order bride Luba (Whitney Buss) is every man's fantasy, though she barely talks to him; Raymond (Matt Neely) is too busy building a Y2K shelter to fully appreciate his hard-working wife, Sonja (Sarah Buff); and seemingly normal mates Gabe and Jane (Michael Szeles and Anna Cody) are actually the least successful at communicating their needs to one another. Each of them eventually comes to terms with their true feelings, but not before paying a price.

Director Neala Wagman has staged Baldwin's brisk comedy-drama with economy and energy. Confrontations are sharp, and transitions clean. Some of the best moments are the wordless ones, and that's saying a lot, because Bald-win's words speak volumes in Wag-man's hands.

The acting ensemble is ideal. Szeles and Cody are the perfect non-perfect couple. Neely and Buss, each in their own, separate mixed-up marriage, are aptly off-kilter, while Buff is heartbreaking in her devotion to her husband, and Humer is hilarious as a macho muffin man. Joe Fuer nonchalantly steals the show as a didactic detective digging for more than murder suspects.

The setting by Chris R. Jones suggests a languorous landscape, burnished with lighting by Nick Hohn. Linda Ross coordinated the contemporary costumes (including some comical uniforms). Sound designer Dean Gray and composer David Rothenberg team up to create the stirring audio tracks.