By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

Poor Emilie Krause, or rather, her poor characters. As a member of New Paradise Laboratories' newer, younger ensemble, she seems to have settled in as the company's little girl lost--all softness and saucer eyes--last in 27, their depiction of rock-star afterlife, and now in their FringeArts world premiere The Adults. But it's a privileged position, and a theme NPL founder and director Whit MacLaughlin has been exploring of late with pretty spectacular results.

The Adults falls in line with the company's aesthetic: it's nasty, beautiful, ugly, thought-provoking and hypnotic, with movements that slither and repeat, its actions far louder and more expressive than its limited script. MacLaughlin, in his program notes, says the production was inspired by, among other influences, Eric Fischl's paintings of vacationing nudes and semi-nudes, frolicking beachside with unselfconscious abandon. That's not quite the case with these visitors, a group of entertainment industry pros and their lovers who descend like locusts on a northeastern lake house. They circle one another with predatory hunger, downing tequila shots, uncoupling and recoupling with viciousness and vigor, and present a Chekhovian play-within-a-play about a post-human world that gets along just fine without us.

This is no bucolic Adirondack setting. Matt Saunders' set and projections offer a Philip Johnson-style modernist dream with white walls, sliding glass and repurposed barn doors that open onto watery images of marshland or the night sky, the group's frolics all taking place beneath the menacing eyes of an enormous taxidermied bear. Bhob Rainey's fuzzy, squealing sound design, all unsettled agitation, underscores the disconnect between the people and their surroundings.

But it's also fun, bringing together onstage NPL's new crew, Krause, Julia Frey, Matteo Scammell and Kevin Meehan, with former members Saunders, Jeb Kreager, and one excellent new addition, Kate Czajkowski. They're top-notch actors, and agile enough for the physicality MacLaughlin's work demands. Though speech isn't primary, we get enough of a sense that the men work, while their women are ornamental--a flaw in the production--but still, it's always a treat to watch Kreager attack a role. He recites a recipe for pickled onions hilariously, obtusely, line by line to Frey (his bored, young wife), and drunkenly moons an unappreciative Meehan; he's privilege personified, king of a domain populated by one.

One brutal moment between Meehan's character's lover, Czajkowski, and lover-aspirant Krause could have been pulled straight from David Lynch's Eraserhead, a fine coincidence that makes this show an apt companion piece for Lynch's PAFA retrospective. Without giving away too much, The Adults offers as much an environmental warning as a humanistic one. These horrible people, the empty, the angry, will kill whatever's beautiful and vulnerable, leaving behind a barren landscape, until they, too, are gone.

Playing at: Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St., Philadelphia. Through Sunday, Sept. 14. Tickets: $15 to $29. Information: 215-413-1318 or www.FringeArts.com