The black dog t-shirt worn by Wellington theatre-maker Uther Dean for these solo storytelling shows silently reveals his approach: the black dog is Winston Churchill's symbol of depression - and also a cute scrawl.
Dean alights on heavy subject matter softly, playing lines like "my self-hatred is the only one who seems to care about me" for gentle laughs. Whether this method comes across as deliberately disconcerting, as fearful avoidance of intensity or as a useful discussion starter may depend on whether audiences share onstage-Uther's anxieties about cohesive self-identity (Everything is Surrounded by Water) or heartbreak and self-hatred (A Public Airing of Grievances).
Both shows offer great one-liners. Water (written with director Hannah Banks) is delivered with polished "spoken word" intonation; Grievances has a few more jokes and a bit of stand-up comedy messiness about it - taking in yoghurt, Japanese reality television and a superhero "Adult Man" whose superpowers don't include vehicle knowledge but "calling the AA".
Uther-the-character has all the self-conscious self-obsession of someone with a quarter-life crisis ("a 25th birthday is like a 21st, except everyone is much sadder" he says in Water). He offers pseudo-profundities (are we good people who do bad things, or vice versa?) but also some more interesting observations which could be developed further (things don't need to be real to hurt you).
Although, disappointingly , a key sub-plot of award-winning Water closely echoes US playwright Neil La Bute's The Shape of Things without acknowledgement, Dean's writing is assured. Narrative structure is his plaything, as he rearranges scenes as easily as squares in a slider puzzle.
He is an amusing, unreliable narrator to his own work, pointing to theatre's artifice: in Water, he tells us that his early jokes are important, because things will get heavy later on. But they don't, not really; instead, the story takes a surreal, hallucinatory turn,and chameleon cuttlefish become the show's best metaphor, suggesting human identity is simple mimicry. A great companion for the young and worried, for an evening.
What: Everything is Surrounded by Water (6:30pm) and A Public Airing of Grievances (8:30pm)
Where & when: Basement Studio, until Saturday
Reviewer: Janet McAllister