Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Noah Haidle's play Rag and Bone is that it is simultaneously so obvious and so obscure.
Or perhaps it's that the play wants to be a dark comedy, but it's neither particularly dark nor the tiniest bit comic.
Haidle, best known for a play called Mr. Marmalade that's just as often praised as reviled, gives us in Rag and Bone a work that seems to have absolutely nothing to say. It's self-important claptrap that revels in trite symbolism, but exactly what Haidle means to symbolize is not at all clear.
The result is two witless hours spent in the company of colorless, unappealing characters.
The production of Rag and Bone at Gorilla Theater is straightforward. It's acceptably done and features some good performances, but it doesn't seem to care about making sense of the trite mess Haidle has created.
Admittedly, director Ami Sallee Corley and her cast faced a Sisyphean task in turning this turgid play into a compelling evening of theater. If they gave up along the way, they can scarcely be blamed.
The central conceit is that two brothers, one of whom is mentally challenged, own and operate a ladder store. The mentally challenged one wants to build a ladder to heaven to see his dead mother.
But the ladder store is just a front. The smarter brother steals people's hearts and, in the store's back room, transplants them into other people, who end up feeling the emotions of the heart's original owner. So, for a high price, you can get yourself the heart of a poet and start seeing the beauty and horror that surrounds you.
It's even sillier than it sounds, and it gets sillier. The people whose hearts are stolen keep right on living, but they have no emotions. Then it turns out that the smart brother has saved his dead mother's heart. He has it transplanted into him, and for unexplained reasons he physically becomes his mother, who turns out to be an abusive drunk.
The play could benefit from some attitude or some visual style, but this production offers neither. The acting ranges from average to excellent. Mike Buck and Christopher Rutherford as the brothers and Kevin Whalin as the poet fall into the latter category. But there's an inconsistency of styles that just makes the play even more muddled.
Rag and Bone
The play runs through Sept. 23 at Gorilla Theatre, 4419 N Hubert Ave., Tampa. 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. $20, $15 students and seniors Thursday; $25, $20 students and seniors Friday-Sunday. (813) 879-2914; www.gorilla-theatre.com.