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Gremlin Theatre's H2O is one of the best shows you'll see this year

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Enigmatic playwright Jane Martin doesn't do easy. Her plays peek into uncomfortable corners of life with an uncompromising eye.

Her latest, H20, is raw, brutal, even funny at times, and likely one of the best shows you'll see on a Twin Cities stage this year — even if the material is as discomforting as the hard seats at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.

See also: H2O Heads to the Cultural Divide

In this Gremlin Theatre production, Martin navigates religion and faith through a pair of lost souls who take turns being intriguing, charming, and repellant.

Deborah is a young actor struggling to make a go of it in New York City. She is also a woman of tremendous faith who sees her turns on stage — especially in the works of Shakespeare — as her ministry.

Jake doesn't have any faith, but he does have riches and fame. The actor made his name as the silent superhero Dawnwalker, but now wants respect added to the mix. So he tackles one of the most difficult roles in theater, Hamlet.

Did I mention that Jake is seriously unstable? Within seconds of the audience meeting the character, he slits his wrists in an attempted suicide. Deborah, who showed up at his apartment to audition for Hamlet, saves him. As Jake dives headfirst into an emotional crisis, he drags Deborah along for the ride, insisting she is the only actor who could play his Ophelia.

The setup lets Martin explore these two distinct sides of the American psyche — and poke fun at a favorite target, American theater. Jake's Hamlet looks to be a disaster from the beginning, a Hollywood star with a reputation for debauchery making his Broadway debut with the Bard. It has Shia LaBeouf written all over it.

Deborah isn't an innocent in all of this, either. Is she truly doing this to spread the word of God? Or is the allure of success (acting brought her $700 the previous year) keeping her tethered to the heathens?

As Jake, Peter Christian Hansen brings out the magnetic charms that could make a mute superhero a movie star. Jake works on impulse. You can see the confusion written all over Hansen's face any time he must stop and assess his actions. Hansen's performance keeps us watching through bad decision after bad decision.

Ashley Rose Montondo's Deborah couldn't be a stronger contrast. She's always thinking, is cautious to a fault, and has a good survival instinct for a Christian among the lions of New York. Just as Hansen sells a character loaded to the gills with flaws, Montondo creates an often sympathetic character whose literal interpretation of the Bible is alien to most of the audience outside of reality TV or uncomfortable conversations at family reunions.

Lots of plays are written to explore issues or spark "conversations." Many are as dull as Power Point presentations.

So don't miss this play — even if it makes for an uncomfortable ride home.

IF YOU GO:

H2O Friday through June 27 Minneapolis Theatre Garage 711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis $25-$30 For tickets and more information, visit online.