As admirers of "Boardwalk Empire" well know, Gretchen Mol -- who plays the high-class madam -- has a silken, prickly beauty that always suggests she has irresistible secrets on the side. In "The Good Mother," she brings the same mysterious allure to a less luxurious character, the struggling 33-year-old single mother of a severely autistic daughter.

Francine Volpe's new drama, directed by Scott Elliott with more psychological sensitivity than the script supports, sets up an ominous but improbable situation. The mother leaves a sullen young man, the son of a former mentor (Mark Blum), to baby-sit while she goes out with a trucker. Everyone talks in a fragmented emotional shorthand about their damaged youths and thwarted ambitions. Even with Mol to watch, it is hard to care.

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WHAT "The Good Mother"

WHERE The New Group, 410 W. 42nd St.

INFO $60; 212-239-6200; thenewgroup.org

BOTTOM LINE The title's ironic, right?