The first thing we notice about "The Way We Get By" is the scary neatness of the Ikea-generic living room, where an abandoned pair of five-inch heels is the only hint that a drunken one-night stand ended up next door in the bedroom. Since the play is by Neil LaBute, the dark star of twisting modern-relationship dramas, we guess that the tidy decor is no accident -- and that passions from the bedroom will mess things up soon.

What we cannot guess, however, is how viscerally romantic, how almost shockingly sensitive, even, dare we say it, sweet, the next 85 minutes will turn out to be. Suffice it to say that the fling between Doug and Beth will have complications in the hours before dawn and that -- LaBute being LaBute -- hurtfulness will be part of the surprise.

Thomas Sadoski, the wonderful theater actor best known now as a staffer on "The Newsroom," is a lesson in transparency as Doug, who silently creeps around the unfamiliar place while Beth sleeps. Even before Doug utters one of his wounded, intoxicating stream-of-consciousness babblings to her, we can see everything the guy feels, and everything he's holding back.

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Amanda Seyfried has just the right anxious insecurity as Beth, a character who doesn't quite seem worthy of Doug for a while. Director Leigh Silverman ("Violet") deftly takes us through so many phases of coupling -- some familiar, some not -- with a smart attention to detail.

For LaBute, whose new play about Mohammed just got an upcoming anti-censorship event canceled over censorship, dares here to explore less obviously explosive territory. Yet, somehow, this daring feels deep.

WHERE Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St.

INFO $60-$90; 212-246-4422;