The poster hanging in the front window of the Performing Arts Theatre promises nudity and a man in a wedding dress. I expected nudity. I looked forward to giggling at the comedy of a man in a flowing white dress.

Theatre UCSB’s production of “The Maiden’s Prayer” didn’t have either of these things, but this is the only thing I can honestly hold against the performance. A dark comedy by Nicky Silver – dark in that it doesn’t end happily ever after, but you’re still laughing throughout – this play is a multi-faceted examination of love, from unrequited to homosexual to obsessive, and love’s meaning.

The story centers around the interactions of four main characters – Libby (Caitlin Ferrara), an embittered, lovesick alcoholic; her sister, Cynthia (Sara White), a newlywed; Taylor (Jaron Farnham), Cynthia’s husband and Libby’s ex-boyfriend; and Paul (Chad Amsel), Taylor’s best friend, who is also gay. Taylor himself is the center of a bizarre love triangle between the two sisters, and if you throw in Paul, who hints at almost being in love with Taylor, the mess gets even messier.

The sibling rivalry between Libby and Cynthia works as a catalyst for the plot’s analysis of love. There are hints that Cynthia married Taylor just to spite her sister. Libby, in her depression, eventually loses her job and turns to prostitution as a way to make money and an answer to the emptiness of her unrequited love. Taylor himself is caught between his dependant love (we’re not sure if it’s truly returned or not) for Cynthia and the obsessive bitterness he gets from Libby.

As a production, the cast of five – including one of Paul’s one-night stands who becomes the spokesperson for happiness found in love, Andrew (Edi Gathegi) – put on a fantastic show. Despite being shaky and a little forced at first, each of the actors falls naturally into their characters to bring their intense feelings of hatred, desperation and desire to the audience.

Ferrara and White both give especially vivid performances; one can almost feel that they really hate each other as sisters, and one can feel that the events throughout the play truly strike painfully at some deep inner chord.

“The Maiden’s Prayer,” while disappointing for the absence of bare skin, is still thoroughly engaging. If you like humor with a dark message, or just like a really well done performance, then this play is a definite must-see.