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Unless you just fell off the turnip truck, were born in a revival meeting, or haven't been around the block, you're not likely to miss the big blinking warning sign that is the title of Steven Dietz's play about a married couple, both of whom are novelists and compulsive diarists, and an "achingly vibrant" young girl who enters their lives at one of those writers' retreat colonies that, according to the play, are mainly month-long excuses for making whoopee. The husband, Michael (Kurt Rhoads), is apparently given to such purply phrases as "achingly vibrant" because he is not supposed to be so fine a writer as his wife, Linda (Nance Williamson). Michael, to his regret, merely writes lucrative potboilers that are made into hit movies, whereas Linda has written at least one critically acclaimed bestseller and teaches creative writing at a university for a living.

From the start a hint of the preposterous clings to the impassioned plot the playwright spins for Michael and Linda, concerning a fatal diagnosis, the reading of many diaries, revelations and denials, and more revelations. As the title suggests, appearances should only be accepted with a grain of salt, for the author is attempting the sorts of reality-versus-fiction mind games that Philip Roth managed so superbly in his novel The Ghost Writer. Unfortunately at the bottom of the story seems to lurk the vulgar assumption that all fiction must have a basis in truth, which shortchanges the most essential ingredient of literature: imagination.

Nevertheless the twists and turns of the story are diverting, and the playwright has created three feisty characters with lots of good opportunities for Williamson's Linda, Rhoad's Michael, and Rachel Fowler as the "achingly vibrant" Abby, to verbally joust, bicker, and make up.

Director Richard Seer gracefully navigates the drama's sinuous course. Robin Sanford Roberts' scenic design has the simple efficiency of a boat cabin; Charlotte Devaux's all-purpose costumes possess a rumpled casualness suitable to writers; Trevor Norton's lighting design smoothes abrupt transitions; and Paul Peterson's sound design bridges plot decades from '60s pop to Windham Hill piano riffs. But the last words might have been left to W.S. Gilbert: "It's easy, in elegant diction/To call it an innocent fiction/But it comes in the same category/As a regular terrible story."

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