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Rose is such an emotional shut in it doesn't take Cliff long to ask, "Do you believe in life before death?"

He's an extroverted truck driver. His rig's down for repairs in Philadelphia. He's come to Rose's studio apartment for what he hopes is some neighborly "wham, bam."

That her one window's boarded up should be a sign. As should her talk about the previous tenant: a poet who attempted suicide, changed her mind during the act, and succeeded in killing herself. Just about everywhere Rose looks, she sees the skull beneath the skin.

Cliff persists. He tells jokes. Has witty sayings ("Well, that's how Niagara falls"). But the more he does, the more it's clear in William Mastrosimone's The Woolgatherer that, while opposites may attract, exact opposites are another kettle of fish.

Woolgatherer (1979) plays like a warm up for Mastrosimone's brutal Extremities. It's an exercise in free-form dialogue: some of it sharp, other parts fumbling for the next opening. And the conclusion's as wistful as Rose's dream of a perfect man.

In effect, it's an actors' play. And Ion Theatre has the actors to make it go. Deftly directed by Glenn Paris, Brian Mackey and Rachael Van Wormer do a dance of attraction and repulsion. Their tandem work is excellent.

He's got the "Joysey" accent down pat, along with the patter. In a nicely modulated performance, and not always aided by the script, Mackey moves from four-letter superficiality to something resembling tenderness.

Van Wormer's Rose acts as if neutron-bombed. Starkly internal, hyper-sensitive to the merest of stimuli, Rose has withdrawn into fleecy shells. It's hard to imagine the fragile, trembling character done better.

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