The Collector

It's a pretty irresistible, black-and-white formula: two characters brought together, one of them unwilling, one of them off their rocker. Then as the forced "togetherness" continues, everything morphs into unexpected shades of gray. John Fowles blew minds when he explored this dynamic in his 1963 novel "The Collector." And even after years of inundation by familiar tales onscreen—in film and the news and on TV—his story of a lovelorn British civil servant who becomes obsessed with and imprisons a young art student still manages to touch a raw nerve.

British playwright-actor Mark Healy adapted and updated the story for the stage in 1998; Edward Edwards directs the current production, which features marvelous performances by Dane Zinter and Jaimi Paige. Zinter's repressed Fredrick Clegg is a fantastic study in working-class subtleties and rationalization. This collector of butterflies, suddenly imbued with the financial freedom of a lottery win, buys a country house with a cellar and carries out a plan to capture a previously elusive object of desire: the vivacious Miranda. Paige is absolutely lovely and always spot-on as she navigates her character's arrested paths—particularly the ones Miranda chooses.

Although the text is at its strongest when it delves into psychological motives and unveils social truths, we're at the mercy of the play's troublesome structure: awkward exposition and sometimes tortuously extended scenes that never quite hit us hard enough. Add problematic, indulgent staging, and, unfortunately what "The Collector" leaves us with are some very interesting bits in an overlong evening.

Presented by and at Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. Jan. 29–March 20. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m. (310) 397-3244.