If the theater industry were to emulate film and start doling out its annual worst-of awards, then "Lion in the Streets" could sweep all categories. Everything about this show is so aggressively inept that the failure becomes a kind of achievement. In the absence of awards, the best we can do is catalog the disasters and hope they'll be remembered as warnings.

If the theater industry were to emulate film and start doling out its annual worst-of awards, then “Lion in the Streets” could sweep all categories. Everything about this show, from script to acting to sound design, is so aggressively inept that the failure becomes a kind of achievement. In the absence of awards, the best we can do is catalog the disasters and hope they’ll be remembered as warnings.

Judith Thompson’s script manages to be both pretentious and shallow. It attempts to follow Isobel (Tania Molina), a murdered young girl whose ghost looks on at the suffering in her community. Really, though, Isobel is too busy spouting faux-poetic drivel about violence — “You are a slave of the lion! I smell the lion’s spray!” — to observe much of anything.

Nor does Thompson develop the child’s character. All we know is she’s Portuguese, she was murdered, and she’s the kind of ghost who constantly asks her audience, “Who gonna take me home? You gotta bus ticket?”

This obnoxious role would defeat the best of actors. But Molina makes it worse by playing Isobel as a wide-eyed angel child, employing the breathy voice and awkward movements that so many lazy performers think represent childhood. And as a final blow to the nerves, director Kareem Fahmy lets her fidget for two solid hours. She only stops twitching when Fahmy has her twirl like a freak ballerina during someone else’s monologue.

Of course, chaos is the director’s style. Literally every scene devolves into high-pitched screaming, as though volume were the only option for intensity. Most of the actors play multiple roles — among others, Isobel watches rape victims, widows, and a lisping homosexual — but all their perfs blend into the same screeching cacophony.

Out of the din, however, arises one scene that surpasses all else. In it, a female reporter (Tracy Weller) interviews a woman with cerebral palsy (Amanda Boekelheide). We never know the interview’s purpose, but the ailing lady will only discuss her sex drive. As she recalls one lover — who might be her rapist, it’s never clear — a half-naked man (Nathan Blew) enters to yank her from her wheelchair. The palsied woman unfolds her twisted limbs, and the couple dances a dream ballet.

The reporter’s response? She throws her subject to the ground and kicks her in the ribs. Then she screams, “You shouldn’t have made me kick you!” From the ground, the victim moans, “Ohhh! Come down and kiss me! Put your tongue in my mouth!” And then they make out.

Um, what? No matter how much it tries to shock, this type of theater does not expose dark truths about society. There’s meant to be a lesson here about the beast inside us all, but “Lion in the Streets” teaches us nothing.

Lion in the Streets

Abingdon Theater Complex/June Havoc Theater; 98 seats; $15 top

Production

An Alternate Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Judith Thompson. Directed by Kareem Fahmy.

Creative

Sets, Brian Ireland; costumes, Anne K. Wood; lighting, Andrew Lu; original music and sound, Andrew Papadeas; dramaturg, Courtney Todd; production stage manager, Andrea Wales. Opened Sept. 8, 2005. Reviewed Sept. 10. Running time: 2 HOURS 30 MIN.

Cast

Scalato, Bill, Midnight Man, Rodney, Ben - Nathan Blew Rachel, Lily, Rhonda, Scarlett - Amanda Boekelheide Timmy, Ron, David, Michael - James Ryan Caldwell Martin, George/Maria, Isobel's Father, Father Hayes, Edward - Jeffrey Clarke Isobel - Tania Molina Sue, Jill, Joanne, Sherry - Rachel Scwartz Nellie, Laura, Christine, Joan - Tracy Weller

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