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Will Kern's play is thoughtful, funny, and touching to begin with, but David Fofi's strong direction and an excellent ensemble make it a must-see. The plot is simply an excuse to deliver as many interesting characters onto the stage in a short time as it can. A cabbie (Danny Lopes) works one long day late in December, as various types of humanity take turns occupying the back seat.

Lopes is tremendous as the cabbie, the normal center amid all manner of strangeness, and the scene in which he goes to give a young woman a piece of bad news and then unexpectedly starts to cry is just one example of what a sensitive performance this is. Kim Estes scores as a kind architect and also as a prickly cabbie: When criticized for wearing an "X" cap and not picking up black fares, he spits back, "Malcolm don't drive this cab." Maria Tomas is an impressive whirlwind of comic energy as a jittery crackhead; she effectively shows another side of her talent as a Southside girl maligned by male gossip. Natalie Compagno is low-key and almost sweet as a stoned passenger, and Tim Starks does an intense job as a fare describing how an automobile dealer has just ripped him off. Ken Arquelio and Rob Benvenisti register well as two arrogant guys mistreating the women in their lives, and Tara Thomas goes through a dizzying array of emotional changes as one of those unfortunate ladies. Eric Bunton is wonderfully menacing as the Scary Man who won't give his destination but just wants to ride, and Lori Evans Taylor is a combination of funny and heartbreaking as a drunken woman desperately looking for company. Last but definitely not least, Darcy Halsey is terrific—slyly humorous as an oddball woman teasing the cabbie, and deeply numb and sad as a woman who has just been raped. Hellcab is a hilarious, boisterous, moving show, a tour de force from this young company. Catch a ride.

"Hellcab," presented by TheSpyAnts Theatre Company at the Elephant Theatre, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 pm. Jan. 13-Feb. 5. $15. (323) 860-8786.

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