Things get darker and deeper, and as they do, these four impeccably cast actors give wrenching, superbly measured performances. In their deeply sensitive hands, their restraint, held gazes, and silence — gauging, pleading, damning — are as powerful an emotional currency as Nic's guilty, weeping rage over hitting her son.

No one in this play is a saint, though with its tall, white cathedral windows, the set hints at this impossible ideal. And between the windows, a painting, too, speaks poignantly: From the head of a lambent white figure, which seeps into dark like an X-ray, grows a vertical near-mirror image, as if of something hidden, deformed, or even transcendent.

Megan Grumbling can be reached at mgrumbling@hotmail.com.

A NERVOUS SMILE | by John Belluso | Directed by Whitney Smith | Produced by Dramatic Repertory Company, at Portland Stage Studio Theater | through March 18 | 800.838.3006

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