The dynamics of human attraction can be thoroughly mystifying. "What does she see in him?" we ask ourselves. "How do they stay together?" Yet unlikely as any relationship might seem, it is, on some level, instinctive. Perhaps inevitable.

"In Heat" offers glimpses of four pairs of people -- lovers, would-be lovers or longtime friends -- in moments that illuminate what binds them.

Written by actor Malcolm Danare, the material is funny and clever, if only about as deep as your average sitcom. So why does this presentation at the Lost Studio seem to deliver so much more? Perhaps because Danare chooses conflict as the purifying fire that causes each relationship to reveal its secrets. Also because the scenarios are terrifically performed.

This isn't a play in the conventional sense; it's four short one-acts that don't overlap until the very end. Each takes place on a hot night in Los Angeles, city of moviemaking, cocktail parties and 12-step meetings. Public meltdowns are served at the corner Starbucks; myriad surprises await anyone who dares to traverse the sidewalks. Freddie Mercury is invoked; songs from "West Side Story" are sung.

A backdrop mural presents an abstract panorama of twilight hills and far-off, Oz-like buildings. The set consists of blond-wood columns and balustrades that can be pulled apart and reconfigured to suggest each new locale.

The mini-plays -- and even the scene changes -- crackle under James Eckhouse's direction, but the chief delights come from the sly line readings and punctuating gestures of cast members Rebecca Klingler, Robin Thomas, Shana Sosin, Kyle T. Heffner, Mary Mara, Jon Lindstrom, John Kapelos and Danare himself.

In each portrayal, the behavior is true, the results hilarious.

--Daryl H. Miller

"In Heat," Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 2. $20. (323) 960-7724. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Tweaking '80s sounds, mores

Only time will tell if "The Next Big Thing" is a prophetic title. It certainly gives audiences something they can sing in the shower. Though this garage band musical by Jeff Favre, Missy Gibson and Mike Flanagan has some stylistic glitches, its tuneful take on '80s music, art, commerce, parents and children is often quite winning.

Set in Chicago circa 1983, "Thing" concerns Chip (the gifted Brandon Ruckdashel), whose plan to form a band with his misfit pals (Jason Director and Mike Thompson) runs afoul of Melissa (co-composer-lyricist Gibson), his embittered single mom. A former '60s rocker with reasons to bemoan the state of the music industry, Melissa finds lowest-common-denominator pop a sacrilege. After Chip's synth-fueled band snags mega-talented Kim (rich-voiced Matisha Baldwin), they land a slot at a high-profile post-prom party hosted by material girl Cyndi (Heather Belling). Once Mom's former manager (Curt Bonnem) spots them, things get increasingly sticky.

Whenever "Next Big Thing" affectionately tweaks the sounds and attitudes of the Reagan era, it's a lark. Gibson and Flanagan are members of the indie band Breech, and most of their double-edged score carries a fresh, incisive charge, whether bubble-gum pastiche or character song. "Give Them Something," in which Chip and company cohere before our eyes, is a unique showstopper, while ballads such as "It's Not Your Life," sung to Melissa by lesbian crony Mary Lou (wonderful Ellen D. Williams), have noteworthy dramatic texture.

The staging by Rachel Maize and librettist Favre is ambitious, with resourceful designs in Davis Campbell's schizophrenic set, Matt Richter's pert lighting and Sharell Martin's spot-on costumes. However, the tone is uneven, here naturalistic, there winking, and the narrative is overstuffed. By Act 2, the emotional twists suggest a John Hughes scenario for Lifetime TV. Yet even with such new-work quirks, there's much to enjoy in this unexpectedly invigorating crowd-pleaser.

--David C. Nichols

"The Next Big Thing," art/works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Post-show karaoke Aug. 1, 8 and 16. Ends Aug. 16. $25. (323) 960-4418. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

A very deep 'Hole' returns

Let the grief sweepstakes begin: In "Rabbit Hole," mourning means keeping score -- who hurts more, who's shirking pain? Camelot Artists' solid new production of David Lindsay-Abaire's domestic tragedy, now at the Skylight Theater, offers another look at this Pulitzer Prize winner, seen at the Geffen two years ago.

The marriage of Becca (Courtney Cole, alternating with Kristina Kreyling) and Howie (Jay Huguley) fractures as they struggle to recover from the accidental death of their 4-year-old son, Danny. Meanwhile, Becca's freewheeling sister, Izzy (Samantha Sloyan, alternating with Kayla Radin), announces she's been knocked up, and Mom (Brynn Thayer) won't shut up about the Kennedy Curse.

Lindsay-Abaire anatomizes loss as a way of life: the urge to assign blame, unexpected forms of comfort, a household on eggshells. Months may have passed, but everyone relives his or her actions from That Day, caught in a time warp both suffocating and oddly consoling.

This intelligent, careful play is deceptively difficult to stage; "Hole" intentionally hides its true feelings, putting the onus on performers to mine its cracks for genuine emotional depth. Director Allen Barton's committed cast tends to stay aboveground, nailing the writing's humor and surface tensions, less so its restless soul. Some actors project too strenuously, giving their voices a forced feel, and the pacing can lag. But Huguley and Chadbourne Hamblin (alternating with Pete Stamos as the driver of the car that killed Danny) manage to dwell inside the play's contradictions. They connect us to its anguished, buoyant heart.

--Charlotte Stoudt

"Rabbit Hole," Skylight Theater, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug 17. $15-$25. (310) 358-9936. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.