We've complained often enough about A.C.T. defaulting to the canon of "good plays" and the safest exports from New York, and we don't want to suggest that they've heeded just our call for the newer and edgier. But this season they are doing several pieces that feel comfortably out of their Greek/Pinter/Mamet/geriatric comfort zone. The current production, Dead Metaphor by Canadian playwright George F. Walker, is one of them.

The play opens with an Afghan War vet, Dean (played affably well by George Hampe) returned from service who's seeking employment via a government-run veterans' employment office. He faces an employment counselor, Oliver (A.C.T. company member Anthony Fusco) who asks him where he sees himself in five years, and the question is a little baffling given the fact that he's just returned to civilian life and all he wants is a job. Any job. He says the guys in his unit told him he'd be good at writing greeting cards, because he was good at being fake-sincere followed by sarcastic. Also, he's pretty good at killing people when he's told to. In case anyone needs to know that he's "efficient."

What unfolds is a comedy about the sociological consequences of war that most of us don't like to think about — namely that we have trained killers roaming our streets, perhaps haunted by nightmares about their kills, with no particular skills besides killing and not getting killed. Walker absolves himself of too much weightiness on this subject by making sure that Dean, his protagonist, is utterly without issues or post-traumatic stress. He's just a dude with a good head on his shoulders who happens to have recently been in a war.

Walker keeps it funny. He's nothing if not a humorist, and with the introduction of Dean's dad, Hank (played with awesome force and spitting vulgarity by Tom Bloom), who's suffering from brain-tumor-induced dementia, we get the delightful catalyst for the play's conflict. It turns out that Oliver, the bureaucrat employment counselor, is married to a powerful, conservative political candidate, Helen (the always stellar René Augesen, almost unrecognizable here in Linda Evans wig and Senate-worthy suits, and hilarious as a villain). Hank despises Helen. Helen sees an opportunity in the form of Dean, whom she can hire as an assistant and tout for his war record. But with nothing left to lose, Hank sets about manipulating the situation, let's just say that the playwright takes things to the most absurdist, most extreme ends imaginable.

The direction by Irene Lewis feels intuitive, natural, and well paced, with subtle touches like the way husband and wife Dean and Jenny (played by the talented and tough Rebekah Brockman) interact with each other after Dean returns from the war. Jenny loves Dean, and their bond is clear from the moment she plops on a park bench and automatically slings a leg over his. We should also mention the fantastic, target-shaped turntable of a set, brilliantly conceived by designer Christopher Barreca.

We like the play for its balls, and respect A.C.T for doing it. But for all the f-bombs and shockingly blasé conclusions the characters reach, the comedy fails to transcend mere shock and get past sophomoric debates about the morality of killing, in and out of the context of war. It's absurd, and honestly funny, and surprising in all the right ways. And it enacts a liberal fantasy when it comes to giving a hypocrite conservative a piece of one's unfiltered mind.

Pushing buttons is never quite enough, though, and there's almost no emotional engagement here to take us beyond the "if-this-then-that" philosophical debate structure — a complaint we'd file with all David Mamet plays of the last twenty years, too, including Race, which Lewis directed at A.C.T. last season. It's not even clear that much is being debated in Dead Metaphor, actually. Walker wants to point out that there's nothing wrong with these guys coming back from war — at least some of them — but there's definitely something wrong with us for not knowing how to relate to them, and for being indifferent to murder when it happens in a war. Whether he's saying anything new, though, is up to the audience to decide. And should the answer be no, we're guessing he doesn't give a fuck.

Dead Metaphor plays through March 24. Get tickets here.