Franz X. Kroetz's "Michi's Blood," a play of sullenness and squalor from the German avant-garde, coolly observes two characters, a man and a woman, flopping around on mattresses and indulging in such exchanges as: "There's a reason for everything." "Oh yeah. If you just knew it."

In 15 scenes by way of Brecht, the two mate, brood, fight and fitfully ponder the dimensions of their tiny lives. The silences are long and dense. She paints her toenails. He reads comic books. She conceives a child. He tries to induce an abortion with a soap-water douche. She gives birth nonetheless to "a blob." Rifts open in the relationship, if it was ever solid to begin with.

Periodically, the two resurrect snippets of their past--mostly childhood fairy stories given a gruesome twist. But language is not one of their tools and all but their most elemental feelings remain locked up tight. "Can't look inside a person's brain," he observes. Long pause. "Nope, need a crystal ball for that," she counters. Meanwhile, a flickering television set casts black-and-white shadows over the stage and abstract paintings (by Ellen MacDonald) flash on a large suspended sheet.

Kroetz is one of Germany's more controversial playwrights these days, and if the Open Studio, operating out of St. Stephen's Church (16th and Newton streets NW) doesn't do him full justice, it is demonstrating a commendable adventurousness not always evident in our experimental theaters. Under Akim Nowak's staging, the production manages to suggest an existence thick with emptiness, contradictory as that may sound. Although the Open Studio falsifies Kroetz's basic equation by casting both lovers young, when the script apparently calls for a youthful woman and an elderly man, some of the characters' unarticulated anger and bewilderment is conveyed by Nancy Castle and Christopher Henley. At times, the latter is a particularly unsettling embodiment of punk sensibilities.

Unpleasant as it may be, "Michi's Blood" is on to something about people deprived of language, purpose and the awareness of their own feelings. And for its periodic failings, the Open Studio production does at least shake itself free of the complacency permeating much of Washington's small-theater scene.

MICHI'S BLOOD. By Franz X. Kroetz. Directed by Akim Nowak; art, Ellen MacDonald; lighting, Emily A. Kane. With Nancy Castle, Christopher Henley. At St. Stephen's Church, May 28-29.