We are all, unfortunately, thoroughly familiar with the verbose criminal - the kind who shoots off his gun as a prelude to shooting off his mouth. So any playwright who attempts such a character had better got him right.

"An Arrangement of Words," a new play by Joan Bonato that the Bleeker Street Players are presenting Thursdays through Sundays at Grace Church through March 20, contains one apparently senseless gunshot followed by two hours of definitely senseless palaver.

The rhetoric we associate with such crimes - the religious and humanistic gibberish laced with vague social criticism and personal grievances - is there. But other possible clues to motivation, such as the desire to capture the attention of an authority figue, are missing.

And we are left with instructions to accept at face value the idea that life is just too awful in a world that has conflict, noise and Mother in it, and that, naturally, any sensitive person would find death more attractive.

As the hero declaims. "There is something inside me that aches - it must be the emptiness in me." Not necessarily: It could be the ache of the void in the vacant place where the emptiness used to be.

Another exuse we are offered is that the victim requested his own death. Everybody in the play, including a lawyer, is under the mistaken impression that if this could be proved the killer would be innocent of murder.

But the really significant thing is that the death was planned for the time at which the victim should complete a jigsaw puzzle he was doing. Apparently this whole thing means that life is puzzle.

Unless, as the shaggy dog story goes, life isn't a puzzle.