"Are you going to be intense?" the antihero of "Five Finger Exercise" is asked by his mother.
Yes, he is going ot be intense, in the most self-pitying sense of the world. So is Peter Shaffer's play, which the Studio Theater at Zenith Square is mounting as its second production through July 15.
The Studio Theater got off to an auspicious beginning last spring with a sterling production of "The Rimers of Eldritch," a time-fracturing piece of American impressionism. It was a complicated play logistically, but everything in Joy Zinoman's production fit into place without forcing.
Unfortunately, everything seems forced in the Studio production of "Five Finger Exercise" -- the play and its characters, performers' bodies and their accents. "Exercise" looks technically easier than "Eldritch." There are fewer roles and fewer levels of meaning: Shaffer tells a straightforward tale of a 1958 English family that is tearing itself apart, and in the process destroying a young German tutor.
Shaffer spells everything out in such excessive detail that a director would apparently have no choice but to understate the predictable and selfconscious dialogue and to try to suggest hidden ironies or grace notes even if they had to be made up.
But at the Studio, director Sue Crystal and her cast have gone in the reverse direction. Actors match Shaffer's overwritting with their own overacting. Bodies flail, voices quiver and crack. The audience is pummeled into submission.
The onslaught gets worse as the play gets worse, in the second act. Proir to intermission, there appears to be some thought going on behind the most transparent lines, particularly in the performance of Morris J. Chalick as the taciturn father of the clan. But in the finale the confrontations are dished out so furiously and heedlessly that the whole play is devauled
It's like a fireworks show that won't stop; after a while the repetoire of "oohs" and "ahs" is exhausted.