A bearded man with a ukulele and a bird mask

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

At first it's just small details . . .

The way the actor's aren't looking at each other but straight out at the audience. And their bodies are still but their faces expressive. They are telling us the story of how they met. Well, not really met but the first time they saw each other in a diner. The details are terribly specific: the symmetry of the two hands around the coffee cup echoing the two bird tattoos on her chest. The way his face was smooth and young but his hands were wrinkled and old.

You catch yourself glancing at his hands to see if it's true. You wonder what those tattoos look like under that dress.

There's something odd about Erin Courtney's play A Map of Virtue.

Odd in the way that you can't figure out if that girl is sexy or creepy. Odd in the way that someone with a secret or a past is odd: you want to know more but you're a little scared to ask.

And things keep getting stranger. There's the coincidence of these two people seeing each other in a diner and then years later on a cliff in Ireland. And then there's the matter of the birds -- they keep popping up, reappearing like a new word you've just learned and now can't help but hear everywhere.

Then there's the set that manages to be terribly specific and also oddly generic. Clean simple lines, almost sculptural and then hung like a major canvas in a gallery, there's a giant framed black and white picture of an old wood barn. You know? The kind of barn that gets turned into reclaimed wood paired with some bare Edison bulbs and becomes the backdrop for your craft beer and farm-to-table appetizer. But this is the barn before all that happens to it when it's still on some desolate country road containing god-only-knows what secrets.

I'd tell you more about the plot of A Map of Virtue but that would sort of spoil things -- not because it's plot driven but because it's an unfolding experience that surprises you and scares you a bit. Part of the journey is trying to figure just exactly what's happening and why.

It's the kind of play where a character, for no reason you can clearly discern, suddenly brings out a ukulele and plays a hauntingly broken tune. It's beautiful and it’s dark, suggesting a world below the surface that's both childlike and terribly damaged. It's an image that stays with you because you can't really make sense of it.

The production is mounted by a company new to LA, the Barker Room Rep and it feels like a throwback to an early time in LA theater, where a small company could spring up out of seemingly nowhere and make stunning work. You never want to judge a book by its cover or a theater company by their first show but, let's face it, we do -- and if this is where they're headed, I want to see more.

If you're looking for simple, predictable theater A Map of Virtue isn't for you. But if you remember the beautifully odd work that Oxblood Theatre Company used to make or even the old eviDence room plays that caught you a bit off guard -- if that's your aesthetic world -- then this production is for you.

A Map of Virtue plays at the Atwater Village Theater through November 18.

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW Theater Newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Ian Merrigan and Mary Jane Gibson in A Map of Virtue.