"I'm happy." "No, Mike, you're shallow." That "part-cute" divorce dialogue -- closely allied to the "meet-cute" kind -- pretty much sums up this amiable, confused, talky play about a lawyer who cracks up, becomes a pizza-delivery guy and spends his time telling us how "everybody should have a job they're overqualified for." Mike's trip to and back from the edge of madness was written by a lawyer-turned-pizza delivery guy, Dennis Raymond Smeal, who needs to keep one of his other jobs.

“I’m happy.” “No, Mike, you’re shallow.” That “part-cute” divorce dialogue — closely allied to the “meet-cute” kind — pretty much sums up this amiable, confused, talky play about a lawyer who cracks up, becomes a pizza-delivery guy and spends his time telling us how “everybody should have a job they’re overqualified for.” Mike’s trip to and back from the edge of madness was written by a lawyer-turned-pizza delivery guy, Dennis Raymond Smeal, who needs to keep one of his other jobs.

The play is mostly monologues directly addressed to the audience. Characters coach us on how best to understand the point (there’s an interminable riff on tipping) while winking, nudging, whining and pleading for our sympathy. Peter Pryor is one of those gifted actors who can make the flattest of affects interesting, but even his skill cannot keep us engrossed in a play that leaves too much unaccounted for while still trying to suggest the unaccountable mystery of the cosmos.

The running time is listed in the program as two hours, which suggests that up until the last moment the script was being cut; the result may be shorter, but it’s not clearer. Although the sequence of events is governed by memory, not chronology, we finally piece together the key epiphanic moment: Mike’s daughter is the only light in his life, but when he finally wigs out and starts hearing voices, having already purchased a gun, he nearly shoots her in his wife’s bed, apparently mistaking a 5-year-old girl for a grown man under the covers.

We still don’t know what happened after the 911 call since we leave him standing in the bedroom with a revolver in his hand, weeping. Nor do we know why, after six months, all his cases are still waiting for him if he wants his job back in the law firm. We do know, however, why he’s such a non-person: His mom abused him.

Metaphors abound. There’s the earthquake metaphor for cataclysmic change, the radial keratonomy metaphor (to “fix your vision so you’ll see what love is”) and the ever-popular astronomy metaphor, with much gazing at the stars. The title is the overriding metaphor: After somebody shoots him in the shoulder, we hear that the bullet didn’t hurt much going in, but the exit wound was hideous. And clincher is the finale: “Time is a petri dish — just add pain and watch it grow.”

Howard Overshown is particularly good in his many roles, while Megan Bellwoar as the wife/ex-wife merely chirps her lines. The direction is unremarkable, as is the set.

Exit Wounds

Arden Theater Co., Philadelphia; 198 seats; $34 top

Production

An Arden Theater Co. presentation of a play in one act by Dennis Raymond Smeal. Directed by Terrence J. Nolan.

Creative

Sets, James Kronzer; costumes, Anne Kennedy; lighting, Daniel MacLean Wagner; sound, Jorge Cousineau; production stage manager, Patricia G. Sabato; production manager, Brad Russell. Opened, reviewed Jan. 23, 2001. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast

Mike - Peter Pryor Ellen - Megan Bellwoar Ward/Dr. Brown/Client/Gun Guy - Howard Overshown Margaret/Alice/World's Best Mom/Receptionist - Mary Martello
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