I met Ana誰s Nin and Henry Miller at a tea party in their honor in Los Angeles in 1974. She was 71 and at her peak as a feminist icon. He was 83 and being celebrated anew since the movie version of his novel Tropic of Cancer. In such a civilized setting, it was difficult to imagine these elderly and fascinating literary lions as the brash bohemian upstarts they had been in Paris some 40 years before. Now, thanks to writer-director Wendy Beckett and her accomplished cast, I have to wonder no more.
It's not as if Nin, who kept her famous diary from age 11, and Miller hadn't written copiously and explicitly of their literary and sex lives, together and apart. But observing them interact at the cusp of their respective careers is even better than reading about it. Borrowing Nin's voice and, to a lesser extent, Miller's, Beckett has fashioned a compelling biographical rumination. She has wisely confined herself to a few years in the 1930s rather than trying to tell Nin's whole story in 90 minutes. Here we see the beginning of fame for each writer, as well as Nin enmeshed sexually and emotionally with both Miller and his wife, June. We see Nin writing erotica because she needs the money, Henry and June buying wine and whatever else instead of paying the rent, and Nin giving Miller the ultimate gift: her precious portable typewriter for a week.
As Miller, David Bishins is electric, at once rough and sensitive. As Nin, Angela Christian is physically and attitudinally perfect, though her wispy, faux-Audrey Hepburn voice is often hard to hear, especially when her back is to the audience. Alysia Reiner fares better as June, forthright and neurotic, all legs in an anachronistic minidress. Rocco Sisto is good doubling as Nin's long-absent father and her psychiatrist, but his scenes distract from the central literary and personal m辿nage.
Presented by Pascal Productions at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC. Aug. 5-26. Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.
(212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com. Casting by Judy Henderson, CSA.