Early arrivers to Julie Marie Myatt's "My Wandering Boy" see a stage containing a giant black wall with a square arch cut away to reveal a hint of Western sky and black hills, and a diagonal ground cloth resembling a two-lane highway with a pair of boots sitting in the middle. These arresting preshow images promise an intriguing investigation into the boots' owner and the lifestyle of the wide open spaces, but the promise proves as empty as the footgear. Flimsy dramaturgy and glacial pacing by directory Bill Rauch ensure it's the aud's attention that does most of the wandering.

Early arrivers to Julie Marie Myatt’s “My Wandering Boy” see a stage containing a giant black wall with a square arch cut away to reveal a hint of Western sky and black hills, and a diagonal ground cloth resembling a two-lane highway with a pair of boots sitting in the middle. These arresting preshow images promise an intriguing investigation into the boots’ owner and the lifestyle of the wide open spaces, but the promise proves as empty as the footgear. Flimsy dramaturgy and glacial pacing by directory Bill Rauch ensure it’s the aud’s attention that does most of the wandering.

If the titular missing person — Emmett Boudin, a thirtyish suburbanite evidently on a cross-country journey to find himself (and finding plenty of women in the meantime) — were an utter cipher for private eye Howard (Charlie Robinson) to fill in, that’d be one kind of play.

If Boudin were a manifestly different person to each of the witnesses — mom and dad, best friend, girlfriends, a street bum acquaintance — and we were led to sort out the truth “Citizen Kane”-style, that’d be another. Each would have its own validity and dramatic interest.

But Myatt consistently makes the least scintillating choices imaginable. There’s no disagreement that Emmett is your standard-issue charismatic narcissist, a charmer and user of others and, judging by the prose he leaves behind, a bit of a blowhard as well.

No one seems to believe him missing or in danger, and no one shows much interest in having him found, though all have as much reason to resent him as to love him, and most do both.

Myatt insists that the witnesses repeatedly resort to tiresome direct address, although P.I. Howard offers a perfectly good sounding board for reminiscence, and all are given to list making: the friend’s list of items Emmett threw at him at first meeting; the dad’s list of Emmett’s high school awards. Even the bum, going through Emmett’s backpack, painstakingly (and with impossible overacting by Brent Hinkley) pulls out the items one by one for our inspection, though none of them, even a gun, ever leads to any payoff.

Imagine an Agatha Christie thriller in which all of the characters have a motive for doing away with a victim and discuss their mixed feelings at length, but where the victim is never found and no one is ever nailed for any crime. That’s about the level of excitement revved up by “My Wandering Boy.”

Robinson provides a solid presence, though the script never explains Howard’s simultaneous disdain for Emmett and commitment to the search, and John Cabrera’s Rooster Forbes, Emmett’s best bud, is likable and restrained. The other thesps push too hard to find depth in their paper-thin roles and fall well short of believability.

Rauch’s pacing is funereal, and he allows the Western panorama, which we see more of as the black wall recedes, to be spoiled by the ugliest assortment of furniture this side of the Pecos. Designer Christopher Acebo lines up a hideous flowered sofa, unsightly end table, mustard-brown recliner and rocking chair across the stage throughout, with the backpack’s contents sprawled downstage left as a final visual blotch.

Unbilled in the program is a happy pup as the dog Emmett left behind in Rooster’s care. She’s lovable and well behaved, frankly unimportant to the plot but most welcome in her too-few appearances. A playwright and helmer have to be pretty confident in their human participants to gamble that an animal won’t walk away with the show, and in this instance, the gamble is lost.

My Wandering Boy

Segerstrom Stage, Costa Mesa; 507 seats; $60 top

Production

A South Coast Repertory presentation of a play in two acts by Julie Marie Myatt. Directed by Bill Rauch. Sets, Christopher Acebo; costumes, Shigeru Yaji; lighting, Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz; sound and music, Paul James Prendergast; stage manager, Randall K. Lum. Opened April 6, 2007. Reviewed April 8. Runs through May 6. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast

Detective Howard - Charlie Robinson John - Brent Hinkley Liza Boudin - Elizabeth Ruscio Wesley Boudin - Richard Doyle Sally Wright - Purva Bedi Rooster Forbes - John Cabrera Miranda Stevens - Veralyn Jones
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