The 2001 play by Adam Rapp now at Washington Ensemble Theatre has a cool title: "Finer Noble Gases. " It refers to the chemistry term for inert, relatively nonreactive gases. That's a smart metaphor...

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The 2001 play by Adam Rapp now at Washington Ensemble Theatre has a cool title: “Finer Noble Gases.” It refers to the chemistry term for inert, relatively nonreactive gases.

That’s a smart metaphor here for the dazed and confused rock musicians who hang out in this 80-minute one-act — a semi-trippy, semi-sordid, ultimately tiresome reflection on narcotics-abetted alienation and young lethargy.

One doesn’t learn much about the male musician/slacker class here that hasn’t been revealed before, on stage and in song.

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As for Rapp’s use of oblique social commentary, hallucinatory raps, and his aversion to conventional plotting — well, they’re not fresh tactics either, as selected plays by Sam Shepard, Samuel Beckett and David Mamet will remind you.

What “Finer Noble Gases” does have, and plenty of it, is ambience and some fine young actor-musicians, directed by Marya Sea Kaminski, who deserve more resonant modern scripts to tackle than this one.

Now playing

“Finer Noble Gases”
by Adam Rapp. Runs nightly through Dec. 23 at Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle. $10-15. 206-325-5105.

On designer Jennifer Zeyl’s funky, graffiti-adorned set, the play’s four roomies/bandmates pop mind-scrambling pills, watch TV nature documentaries, call well-heeled dads for handouts, and behave with less concern for personal hygiene then the wild caribou and gorillas they chatter on about.

One guy, perversely named Speed (Eric Edelheit), spends most of the play crashed out on the floor. But he does shake off his stupor enough to urinate (at length) into a bucket. (With his naked back to us we can’t see the urine, but boy do we hear it.)

Another roomie, Lynch (Jonathan Martin), stomps in periodically to kick the TV set. And to carry in what looks like a sleeping, frozen child. And to let us see his clothing is newly streaked with blood.

Why? Don’t ask me.

Few explanations are required of characters you lose interest in before the play is half over. And none are given for Lynch’s weirdness — though the blood may have something to do with the knife collection of a neighbor, Gray (Marc Kenison), who turns out to be much weirder than his conservative attire first suggests.

There are dribbles of dark comedy here. Though they didn’t thrill me, Rapp’s scatological effects (farting, barfing etc.) earn laughs and titters. So do some non-sequitur-riddled, Cheech-and-Chong like exchanges between pals Chase (portrayed with a symphony of finely-honed twitches by excellent Lathrop Walker) and the ineptly philosophical Staples (Michael Place).

Yet “Finer Noble Gases” doesn’t make much of a case for Rapp’s reputation as a rising New York dramatist and keen social observer.

Rapp has noted that his plays and novels “constantly involve people trying to find refuge in chaos.” And maybe the search for sanctuary is more arrestingly explored in his other works.

As for “Finer Noble Gases,” not even a finale of blasting rock tunes, performed live by the actors, can shake this play out of its torpor.

Misha Berson: