Azuka Theatre has given Philadelphia playwright Douglas Williams his first professional production with Moon Cave, and although Williams has an intriguing idea, the thin script feels stretched to its hour and a half playing time. The sound design (by Nick Kourtides) - composed of loud music and muffled, frantic whispers of "I'm sorry" - fills the long breaks between scenes, taking up almost as much time as the dialogue. Kevin Glaccum directs an excellent cast, but it can't provide narrative substance.

Moon Cave is a psychological ghost story that wants to be a thriller but isn't: Richard (Kevin Meehan) meets Rachel (Taysha Canales) in a bar; they have an awkward, flirty exchange and wind up in bed. But then the scene in the bar replays and replays, as the separation between the inside of Richard's head and the real world blurs. That blur partially controls the dramatic action, an experimental technique that should define the show but fails to.

Rachel - and the audience - will eventually discover that Richard is haunted by his past, when, 15 years before, when he was 12, he did something "twisty" to a bully.

While Rachel is just a nice woman hoping her romantic luck will change, Richard is deeply damaged; the play merely mentions rather than explores his trust issues and his inability to accept adult life. That Meehan is made to look so scruffy, more like a homeless person than someone a woman like Rachel would live with, confuses the point even more.

That point seems to be that an event in the past can be so destructive that the psyche can never recover. The meaning of that point remains undiscovered, because the playwright never reveals anything other than the facts of the matter. We are left knowing no more about the boy Richard was than we know about the man he became.

News note: The church building that houses Off-Broad Street Theatre at 17th and Sansom, home to Azuka as well as several other theater companies, has been purchased by a new congregation and will disappear as a performance site. Azuka will use Theatre Exile's Studio X (1340 S. 13th St.) for its last production of this season.

THEATER REVIEW

Moon Cave Presented by Azuka Theatre at the Off-Broad Street Theater, 1636 Sansom St., through March 22 Tickets: $25 215-563-1100 AzukaTheatre.orgEndText