The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, where the Charter Theatre stages its plays, is an odd little place: tucked below a Georgetown church, accessible by an unmarked stairwell, full of tiny, dark rooms. It sort of fits: Charter’s quirky originals, often hinging on one person’s obsession, always have you wondering what you’ll find when you enter the room that has the theater squeezed into it. This time, the stage is occupied by a partially constructed boat—a Swampscott dory, according to Peter Coy’s script, though my maritime-knowledgeable companion pointed out its many inaccuracies. For one, it’s too small—but then it has to be, to fit on that cramped stage. Besides, its maker, Hugh (Kevin Adams), has named it Hinayana, for the school of Buddhism whose Sanskrit name means “lesser vehicle.” Working on the boat, which the aging, now jobless divorcé will pilot singlehandedly, helps distract him from his miseries. But for Coy, as one character notes, “There is no such thing as ‘just a boat.’” Building a Boat, seeing its premiere here, is laden with symbolism—it’s all about this solitary man, in his solitary dory, contemplating the various murky waters of human interaction—and even more laden with religious esoterica, via the babbling of the character called Conn (Michael Skinner). One patron was heards to query, “Conn—as in ‘pro and con’? Or is he ‘conscience’?” Whatever he is, only Hugh and the audience see and hear him as he leaps around, providing expository flashbacks, voguing crucifixions, and chanting in Latin. At one point, Hugh scoffs, “You’re full of shit!” To which Conn crows, “But it’s such glorious shit!” In smaller doses, maybe, but here, Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu all are equally, ultimately annoying. It’s the play’s fault: Coy has set up a semester’s worth of literary, psychological, and philosophical term-paper themes, but he doesn’t make his underlying story strong enough to support them. Hugh’s ex-wife, Deirdre (Hope Lambert), is little more than a bitter man’s caricature of the frigid bitch who dumped him. Their teenage son, Michael (Denman Anderson), suffers from an illness for which both of them, scientifically and of course metaphorically, are at fault. Anderson grounds a potentially disease-of-the-week role in humanity, Lambert does what she can with shallow Deirdre, and Adams brings dignity and warmth to a not-always-sympathetic character. As for Skinner, with his kinetic energy and eloquently melancholic eyebrows, he’d be a great Lear’s Fool. Here, though, when Hugh ultimately banishes him, you can’t tell whether Coy means the move as tragedy or triumph. If it’s the former, we shouldn’t feel so relieved to see him go; if it’s the latter, we shouldn’t have had to tolerate so much of him in the first place. “Do you enjoy being obscure?” Hugh demands of Conn at one point. Sadly, the answer is yes—and for a company making so much fine art, so often, in such a humble, out-of-the-way place, that’s nearly a tragedy. —Pamela Murray Winters