If there was an award for best stage entrance of the year, Reyna de Courcy would have to be considered a front-runner. At the beginning of Gregory S. Moss's new play Orange, Hat & Grace at Soho Rep, de Courcy's hand is the first thing you see, poking up from under the dirt and wood chips that cover the front of the stage. A slender arm follows, then a shoulder, and finally a head as she creeps up from some subterranean burrow to confront a stern, backwoods recluse named Orange (Stephanie Roth Haberle). It's a promising start, but then de Courcy starts talking. The script has filled her mouth with abstract stream-of-consciousness spoken word stuff, featuring repeated lines like, "I made my circle in the woods. I made my circle in the woods" You wish she'd go back underground and stay there.

Moss's play favors stark, poetic dialogue over characterization or narrative, and in the right hands this aesthetic can be spellbinding: in theater, language is king. But here the language, while reaching for the incantatory, falls short, and what's left are loose sketches of characters and lots of mood. Thankfully, parts of Orange, Hat & Grace are quite funny, as when Hat, a filthy hillbilly played by Matthew Maher, promises to "woo" Orange with a primitive wood carving of their imagined baby, or when Maher plays with his wood blocks, or when Maher sings while chopping wood. You may notice a pattern developing here; Haberle's fine performance is spiked with a dry humor, but it's Maher who really holds this rickety thing up. (Moss wrote the role with him in mind.)

The play concerns Hat and Orange's improbable romance, and the latter's attempt to civilize the savage beast, who uses uncouth language, burns his mouth by eating food before it cools, and has no religion. One of the play's funnier lines comes out of Hat's reaction to Orange's Bible reading: "Religion is just a story," declares Hat in his backwoods drawl. "Some God made the world and now we all have to feel bad about it." Their awkward affair is soon threatened by Grace (de Courcy), a wild child who lives alone in the woods, and whom Orange forbids Hat to help. This is the play's central conflict, but because it erupts within the confines of Moss's oneiric abstractions, it's not very compelling.

In an interview with The Brooklyn Rail, Moss says he's "interested in making people squirm. I think people like to squirm; they like to be a little scared and a little squirmy sometimes." As his play unfolds on Rachel Hauck's pitch-perfect, rustic set, a creepy, macabre atmosphere settles over the room, but any squirming on my part was the result of boredom, not revulsion. The talented cast does everything they can to fill out their opaque parts, but there's simply not much to work with. This the third play I've seen Maher in, and he's one of downtown theater's most fascinating performers. At this point, he's reason enough to see just about anything, but I can't quite recommend spending $30 to see him in this bleak bafflement.