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Two nervous, tentative, would-be adulterous couples sway to music at the outset of the fascinating puzzle playwright Andrew Bovell calls Speaking in Tongues. Each has paid for a hotel room, but emotional contracts haven’t yet been signed, and as they speak in overlapping dialogue that is mostly phrased identically and often uttered simultaneously, they come to very different conclusions about the infidelities they’ve planned. As their scenes fade to black, one couple ends up falling into bed; the other doesn’t. Then the lights come back up and the four characters have coalesced into different pairs—the men in one bar, the women in another—and as they converse, what becomes crystal-clear to us, but only partially evident to them, is that in the previous scene they were matched with each other’s spouses. From there, things start to get infinitely more complicated, both physically and emotionally, with actors doubling and tripling in roles, and characters mixing and matching in patterns that interweave so complexly that viewers not paying close attention will likely be thoroughly mystified by intermission. Those who keep up, however, will be enthralled by the eerie order that emerges from so much relational chaos. Bovell is exploring themes of betrayal in a manner that is equal parts intellectual puzzle, soap opera, class commentary, and homicide investigation. His characters run a gamut from police officer to layabout and speak in a rush that often feels as musical as Neil McFadden’s throbbing sound design. Lou Jacob’s staging makes clever use of designer James Kronzer’s multilevel, counter-revolving frames within frames, shifting smoothly from hotel bar to deserted roadside to psychiatrist’s office. The effect, not unlike a whirling stagewide gyroscope, is almost cinematic—a bow, perhaps, to Lantana, last year’s deft film version of Speaking in Tongues, which played as a somewhat more literal crime melodrama. But the story works significantly better as theater, employing linguistic rhythms, double-casting fillips, and staging symmetries to underline the various aches that afflict the marriages and marital prospects of nine characters. The cast—Round House stalwarts Marty Lodge and Jane Beard, and Shakespeare Theatre regulars Andrew and Elizabeth Long—mine the script for a rich lode of situational humor in the play’s early going without undercutting the harrowing nature of what follows. For patrons who like brain-twisters, it’ll be a richly rewarding evening. —Bob Mondello