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For all of its summarization of the life-or-death implications of the Terri Schiavo case, Dom DeLillo’s play Love-Lies-Bleeding extends well beyond political and ethical considerations. As an author, DeLillo is too preoccupied with the past to bother with topicality—and too enamored with fashioning words into weapons to give himself over to civil and well-reasoned dialogue. Death is inextricably linked to life in Love-Lies-Bleeding, as estranged relatives of an absentee parent/husband gather to decide his ultimate fate: His death will enable them to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, but their participation in a mercy killing will inevitably lead to a kind of spiritual demise. Yet death is also rendered in the abstract, as the central character (an aloof artist named Alex) has already been vivisected—with a soul (John Heard) divorced from its rapidly degenerating body (Larry Kucharik). Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company clearly has an affinity for this type of mind-bender: The troupe staked its early reputation on passionate stagings of Sam Shepard’s work, while more recent national forays out of the Midwest have included an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog. But Love-Lies-Bleeding lacks some of the creative firepower of past DeLillo-Steppenwolf collaborations, such as the John Malkovich–helmed adaptation of Libra that initiated the partnership. What’s left is an intimate production that loses focus within the wide-angle lens of the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. Only Martha Lavey, as ex-wife Toinette, navigates DeLillo’s frigid dialogue without overcompensating. Her performance is simultaneously hardened, delicate, and ultimately generous with the only quality any of the characters have to share with the audience: exhaustion. The play runs 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 22, through Sunday, June 25, with matinees at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 24, and Sunday, June 25, at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. $35. (202) 467-4600. (Nick Green)