Virtually nothing makes much sense or rings true in Kathy Anderson's new play, The Meatpackers Book Club, all the worse because it's not one of those plays that's supposed to make no sense.

In fact, it's hard to tell just what Meatpackers is trying to do, the playwriting is so rickety.

The play, in its world premiere by Philadelphia Theatre Workshop, where Anderson is associate artistic director, is at first an indictment of hazardous industrial working conditions, then soon becomes a play about a new book club in a slaughterhouse break room where the very people who have just tsk-tsk'd about such working conditions are now ignoring them, big time.

But wait! Who cares about all that when love is in the break room? The only female among the play's foursome is hooked to one of the others. But wait! She's secretly involved with another of the others. But wait! He's been somehow industrially co-opted by management and - where is he in the next scene, anyway, and is she still in love with him? Has she ever been?

But wait! Better yet, don't wait. You'll wait an eternity, because instead of blending themes, Meatpackers - whose literary slaughterhouse crew is a clever, if stillborn, idea - switches from this theme to that. It never establishes itself as a cohesive story.

Curious, because Anderson can lay claim to several awards for her storytelling. Meatpackers, directed by the company's artistic chief, Bill Felty, feels like a play in embryonic development - not ready for an audience, maybe not even for a first reading.

Its butchers have lines like "do tell," its characters get into physical fights without any buildup or serious motivation, sometimes people come into this resting area bloodied (highly unlikely), and one of them happens to walk around all the time with a list of the 100 best books ever - even before the club is formed.

Worse, a couple of them have revelations that are not in the least revealing, and would have been known by the buddy-buddies long ago. Still, the other characters gasp at these non-disclosures, which are also never developed. "I can't believe I never knew this!" responds one, perhaps the play's most plausible reaction. Neither can anyone even slightly conscious in the audience.

The actors, hampered by such twaddle, perform at a level only a bit above the play's low bar. The silver lining in Meatpackers is that its scenes are in the break room, never on the slaughterhouse floor. The only thing you see dying before you is two hours.

The Meatpackers Book Club

Presented by Philadelphia Theatre Workshop at Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 5, through June 14. Tickets: $18-$20. Information: 215-316-1361

or www.philadelphiatheatre EndText