Jane Sorensen and Khalil McMillan are two of the stars in “Quake,” an offbeat comedy now playing at Allens Lane Theater, 601 W. Allens Lane, through Oct. 11.

Jane Sorensen and Khalil McMillan are two of the stars in “Quake,” an offbeat comedy now playing at Allens Lane Theater, 601 W. Allens Lane, through Oct. 11.

by Hugh Hunter

Over the years Allens Lane Theater has staged lots of edgy plays, and they are staying true to form with this season’s opener, “Quake” (2001), an 80-minute one-act play by Melanie Marnich.

In its offbeat way, “Quake” is about the conflicted soul of modern women. Lucy (Jane Sorensen) is the main character, a young woman who is obsessed about finding the perfect man. In the course of her romantic quest she often runs into her opposite, “That Woman” (Sarah Labov), a lady who has no time for men at all.

A few posters here and there on the stage walls tell you that Lucy crisscrosses the country from Maine to San Francisco in her desperate search for a soul mate. But despite her zeal and determination, she only manages to take up with one oaf after another.

Khalil McMillan plays some of them. “Guy” promises Lucy marriage and then leaves her at the altar. “Jock” maniacally rides his bike, oblivious to Lucy’s punctured lung. “Angel Bruce” is a charismatic, New Age faith healer who only loves himself.

Jeff Barg plays the others. “Cooper Trooper” is the emcee in a beauty contest Lucy enters. “Nice Man” cheats on her.  “Auto Repair Man” is confident that all women find his abusiveness irresistible. All these men are so ludicrous you feel that Lucy’s good luck in being free of them must trump any disappointment.

In the midst of these bizarre love affairs, Lucy often encounters “That Woman,” an astrophysicist who “broke bad.” When we first meet her, she is lugging a corpse across the stage. Unlike Lucy, “That Woman” decided to murder lovers who disappointed her, then branched out to become a serial killer who now tops the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.

It is unclear if “That Woman” is a real person or Lucy’s alter ego. In any event, she is so disruptive to the romantic quest that Lucy seeks out a psychiatrist (Pratima Agrawal) for advice, saying, “I’m here because I’m dreaming of a killer…I want what she has…power…courage without compromise.”

Director Sarah Mitteldorf does a fine job with casting and pace. And in the star role of Lucy, Sorensen is as charming as a young girl in a fairy tale, full of innocence, curiosity and pluck.

Yet the staging of this admittedly difficult play lets you down. Marnich’s script is so elliptical it almost demands a matching stream of stage effects to balance out and play silent partner to all the caricature and absurdity you see on stage. But it is just not there.

I suppose women were always torn between wanting a man and a contradictory wish for independence. Lucy is an apt metaphor for that tension. While you get the idea, the lack of a sustained stage ambiance in this production makes “Quake” feel more like a series of odd vignettes than a drama that wants to involve you in its world.

Allens Lane is located at 601 West Allens Lane. “Quake” will run through Oct 11. Reservations available at 215-248-0546.