Forgetting, Tyrone and Ralph are intense rides

Three stages of grieving: (from left) Julie Kurtz, Annie Enneking, Catherine Justice Johnson

Three stages of grieving: (from left) Julie Kurtz, Annie Enneking, Catherine Justice Johnson

"This is how I forget," says a woman named Ash (Annie Enneking) in the first line of Trista Baldwin's new play, and in the hour-plus that follows we trace a raw, profound, and sometimes impossibly intense path through the byways of her grief. We leave the theater wrenched and changed, the effects of a work that delivers both craft and sustained, raw-wire feeling.

Ash is joined by Bone (Catherine Justice Johnson) and Blood (Julie Kurtz). In due course we learn that the three women are time-sliced fragments of the same person three, seven, and ten years after her prodigy brother's suicide. Their names seem carefully chosen: Kurtz's character is soft, almost shell-shocked, while Johnson portrays a boozy party girl with a mean streak, Bone's bereavement visibly forming callouses on her soul.

Most of the action takes place in New York in the summer before 9/11, a choice that telescopes future dread with aftershocks of the past. Enneking, tense and pinched, recites with fervor Baldwin's synesthetic odes to the city, with their attention-diverting mountains of detail. It is clear that Ash, the eldest of the three, has become both the most desperate and the most adept at pursuing distraction (by engaging her senses fiendishly with the city).

Daniella Topol directs, and she is assured enough to avoid a breathless tone, although emotions come at the audience like sword thrusts. In one harrowing scene, Enneking keens disconsolately, portraying the main character's mother, in close proximity to another scene in which Bone derides the grief of a man (Nick Crandall) trying to elucidate his own loss.

Crandall tackles a variety of male roles; his performance is, as his program billing says, "always to a degree an echo of a brother." He brings a wide-eyed, gangly quality to the role (indulging in a silly accent at one point as one of Bone's would-be suitors), and his interplay with the three actresses captures the reality of the one woman they represent: They orbit him in time, changing, coping or not, while he remains fixed like a sun by the enormity and irreversibility of his act.

One later scene of Ash exacting revenge on the world doesn't hold as much water as what came before, but by the time the lights come up we've seen a profound, seeking, at times spiritually violent meditation on loss and the way it spirals through a life, shifting and altering with the passage of years. It's likely that no two people will experience this play in the same way, but it will be a stony heart indeed that it fails to move.

Steve Richardson and Mark Benninghofen in <i>Tyrone and Ralph</i>

Steve Richardson and Mark Benninghofen in Tyrone and Ralph

JEFFREY HATCHER'S Tyrone and Ralph, on the other hand, leavens its affecting moments with humor and a wealth of historicity. Telling the story of theater dynamo Tyrone Guthrie (Steve Hendrickson) and architect Ralph Rapson (Mark Benninghofen) in the process of designing the building that was to bear Guthrie's name, this Ron Peluso-directed production glides with glib self-confidence, finally illustrating the ridiculous good fortune that brought regional theater to the Twin Cities.

Hendrickson brings animated swagger to "Tony" (in the early going, he visibly relishes Guthrie's contention that "the American theater is shit," then masterfully recites Richard III monologues as Guthrie walks an empty field to demonstrate for Rapson the dimensions his stage will require). Benninghofen, for his part, depicts Rapson's low-key ego, as well as his mounting desperation as various deadlines loom for him to cough up his design.

We all know how the story comes out, of course, but it's to this show's considerable credit that Rapson's homely breakthrough comes as a credible dramatic moment (he breaks a saucer in his mind's eye, you see, really have to be there). As a two-hour diversion, Tyrone and Ralph delivers ample entertainment. As the marker of a moment, it is a witty, smart, apt depiction of a time long before today's big blue battleship was a gleam in anyone's eye.