A middle-aged man (Michael Kearns) discovers a short note meant for his lover, setting off complicated mechanisms of dominance in this edgy revival of Robert Harders' "Bill and Eddie"' at Playwrights' Arena.
The shrill whistle of a boiling teakettle cuts through the stifling, still air of this venue. It's both an alarm and evidence of the complicated, suffocating relationship that ties Eddie (Kearns) and Bill (Fred Russell) together in rituals of physical and emotional abuse.
The sly psychological seduction between Bill and the letter-writer, Danny (Jeff Daurey), reveals the pattern of co-dependency between Eddie and Bill and the awful neediness of this gruesome threesome.
Harders scripts a dangerous dance of weaknesses brutally expressed. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera doesn't shy away from the domestic ugliness, and skillfully delineates the horrors of a gay couple who lives on the edge of love, hate, poverty and sanity.
Kearns is frightening as the deceptively weak Eddie, while Russell plays Bill as a loutish bully who ultimately is a coward. Daurey's Danny is a pathetically deluded boy who wants to save Bill.
Set designer Victoria Profitt helps envision this seamy side of humanity with her detailed seediness, and the fight choreography gives a bloody reality to the final scenes.
This isn't about gay men, really, but the nightmare of three people caught in a sadistic game of betrayal and power as they search for the security of family.
* "Bill and Eddie," Playwrights' Arena, 5262 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. $15. (323) 960-7756. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.