Wonk If You Like Tooty: Platt and Fortier signal their intentions.

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Moth and Belly, the teenage protagonists of Sheila Callaghan’s We Are Not These Hands, speak in harsh, staccato bursts thick with slang: hands become slappers, bananas are shiners, the people who populate the grimy Internet cafe the pair are forbidden to enter are scuzzers. Because Callaghan has set the play in a deliberately nonspecific Third World country, one assumes this ersatz dialect is meant to evoke a similarly nonspecific sense of foreignness. Does it work? Well, the stylized locutions abound, and the deliberately fractured grammar keeps piling up, and just when you think it all can’t get any more mannered and writerly, the girls start talking about sex: “He stick his wonk in your tooty?” Thankfully, it’s right about this time that a self-described “freelance scholar” (Catalyst Artistic Director Scott Fortier) makes his entrance. The character is such a singularly odd creation that he can’t help but steal the play’s focus, and Fortier’s performance is a hell of a thing. He breathes squirrelly, tic-ridden life into his delivery, letting the pitch of his voice steer each stammered sentence around hairpin turns. It’s showy and comes damn close to mugging at times, but Fortier doesn’t push it. There’s a restraint to his choices that, unfortunately, the play doesn’t give Casie Platt’s Moth or Regina Aquino’s Belly the opportunity to match—the two are written as little more than collections of impulses. This effectively forces the actresses to go big; Platt and Aquino gamely, if a bit broadly, attempt to fit their mouths around the affected argot their characters are saddled with. At its core, We Are Not These Hands wrestles with some big and potentially disturbing ideas. Callaghan seems interested in how Western culture simultaneously romanticizes and exploits the Third World, and vice versa. She depicts Moth and Belly’s attitude toward sex—which, despite all their stylized baby talk, is decidedly cleareyed—in a bracingly honest way. But even then, she keeps the more unsettling stuff at arm’s length, as if she’s unwilling to really explore the play’s darker ramifications if it means forgoing a sex joke, of which there are plenty. (In fairness, it should be noted that many of them land; a cheap laugh is still a laugh, after all.) Catalyst’s production is cleverly designed and staged, and although the play’s action remains thematically undercooked, you won’t forget Fortier’s mesmerizing performance any time soon.