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In the Lonesome West, Together

Published: August 17, 2005

You could drive a herd of cattle through the dead spaces in Gabriel McKinley's sere, Old West-set two-hander "Love Sick." The talk is as empty as the pauses here. When a querulous young prostitute, Jinx (Stefanie Frame), tries to befriend a cranky, boozing outlaw named Tax (Mr. McKinley), these two inarticulate souls neither spark to each other nor clash with much fire. Instead they gingerly circle the obvious, then state and restate it, until finally one of them has the sense to shoot the other.

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Dixie Sheridan

Stefanie Frame and Gabriel McKinley in Mr. McKinley's "Love Sick."

New York International Fringe Festival
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The play's sharpest exchange comes after Jinx offers herself to Tax as a no-strings love offering. "I'll be constant, like a river," she says. "Rivers dry up," he retorts. "Like a rock, then," she offers. "Good enough," he snorts.

With the dissolute, downbeat Tax, Mr. McKinley seems to be aiming for a portrait of bone-deep guilt and alienation. But this grizzled loser's suffering is merely pathetic, not poetic. He's holed himself up in a remote shack to lick his wounds after inflicting a few: he killed his best friend for dancing with his girl, and left her much worse for wear, too. "I only hit her when she deserved it," he tells Jinx, though he clearly doubts that tidy explanation.

Poor, simpering Jinx, hopeful that her love can mollify if not redeem Tax, simply nods agreement. But eventually even this craven enabler knows when to cut and run. Likewise, though he hasn't written much of a play (it lasted 45 minutes), Mr. McKinley does know when to end it.

"Love Sick" runs for five more performances throughAug. 25. At the Access Theater, 380 Broadway at White Street, fourth floor, TriBeCa; (212) 279-4488.

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Photo: Dressing room of A Chorus Line, on the night of its record-breaking performance, 1983
Photo: Dressing room of A Chorus Line, on the night of its record-breaking performance, 1983