On a darkened highway in upstate New York a cute, fuzzy bunny is transfixed by the glare of headlights and the roar of an internal combustion engine. The poor rabbit’s eyes widen in horror, and his lip quivers uncontrollably as the car swerves. The innocent lapine wanderer is struck hard by two tons of steel and rubber, but it’s only a glancing blow; and though his back legs are crushed, his heart, still hammering with fear, has survived. The car screeches to a halt, and a woman gets out. She’s pale and trembling like the rabbit. She picks him up gingerly, and tells him it’s going to be alright. She wraps him in a towel, puts him in her car, and speeds off, into the night.

Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan, is a play about art and guilt. Trevor, the main character, is a woman who gained early and widespread fame ten years ago when she created a photography show that displayed gruesome pictures of woman who was killed in a car crash. But in the art world Faces of Death is so 80s. Trevor’s exhibit was a sensation because the dead woman was the wife of Trevor’s new husband William, and William was Trevor’s professor at art school. Now the son William had with his dead wife is a violent teen who loves ultra-violent video games and screaming instead of talking. You might think he blames Trevor for wrecking his life, but to the contrary, he wants his stepmother’s new show to be an even bigger hit than the one that killed his mother. When he was six and he saw the images that made Trevor famous all he could do is cry. Now he wants to bask in the reflected glow of her spotlight.

To complicate this situation, a deadly bacteria has killed two people and a rabbit in the vicinity of Trevor’s studio. The prokaryote microorganisms attract the attention of the Feds because this particular kind of beastie was not created by Mother Nature, but rather by Uncle Sam. That is, it’s a weapons grade flora. It just so happens that our narrator — a man with an eye patch, gravelly voice, and palpable menace (played skillfully by Danny Mastrogiorgio) — is an FBI man on the trail of whoever is using this strain of government sponsored nastiness to undermine our national security.

The hard-boiled detective angle of the story is probably where the play gets its title. This narrative frame leads to some expected conclusions: for example, in the process of observing Trevor the FBI man realizes that, despite their positions on opposite ends of the political spectrum, he and she are kindred spirits. But Callaghan uses this potential cliché to explicate her core theme, which is the centerfuge of Sadistic Eros and shame that consumes those bent on Messianic fame — a dialectic that animates both the nihilistic artist and the faithful patriot. On one hand you have Trevor, who is willing to torture animals to make a point about the inhumanity of torturing animals, and the FBI man, on the other, who is willing to destroy the principles of the state in order to preserve it. In the final analysis, Ms. Callaghan’s portrayal of this essentially human paradox is well done, and the ending, though not unexpected, is tragic and satisfying.

Kip Fagan’s direction and staging accentuate Ms. Callaghan’s point, leading to the final, nauseating revelation of Trevor and the FBI man’s depravity. And the huge, industrial space is used to maximum effect by the team of designers who have created a visually striking setting that enhances both the story and the aesthetic pleasure of the audience.

The play and this production can leave one with the vertiginous feeling that all art is voyeurism, and all patriotism is the final refuge of scoundrels; and that, consequently, the Puritan Parliament was right to suppress the London theaters in the 1640s and 50s. Isn’t edgy drama just an excuse to enjoy someone else’s pain? If you don’t believe me, ask Plato.

Until September 27.

Tickets at http://www.TheaterMania.com or by calling 212-352-3101.

For more information visit http://www.ClubbedThumb.org.

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