Sweet and sour

Extra Virgin's Hemlock is a seductive dose of despair

You wouldn't be able to speculate about such slippery notions if Extra Virgin Performance Cooperative didn't offer a bouquet of smart, controlled performances. As the Grand Inquisitor Auguste Menard, Wm. Paul Williams is a merry projection of relentless practicality, a soldier of God whose utter Godlessness has endeared him to the Creator. As both Crito, a trusted friend of Socrates, and Marie, the flirtatious but forbidding wife of David, Kalin Burke drops plenty of hints about the darkness to come in a whirlwind performance of vaguely antagonistic quips. As a sarcastic Socrates and the paranoid Peter,

Robert Erwin veers between wisdom and fear with precision.
This production of Hemlock wouldn't have succeeded without Ian Leson's confident performance as Plato/David. His is essentially the role of perpetual reactor, the trampoline against which the playwright bounces his angriest contentions. But Leson emerges as a soulful hero, whether he's playing catch-up as the Socratic diarist Plato or, as David, surveying his own mortality in the face of a celestial conspiracy against passion. He's equally successful in moments of danger and comic relief.

Hemlock shoves a piping-hot dish of contradictions in your face and asks you to savor each one. Luckily, both the playwright and Extra Virgin have full grasp of the recipe. The final concoction won't please everyone's palate, but chances are you won't stop till your plate is clean.

Hemlock: A Greek Diner Tragedy runs through August 10. Call (214) 941-3664.

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