The New Jersey Star Ledger

Dear Diary: Went to see Steven Dietz's new play, "Fiction," at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. Really good play. You'd be especially interested in it, Diary, because "Fiction" involves diaries. Both Michael and Linda, two writers who have been married for 20 years, have been keeping them. You might think they'd be too exhausted
from writing their novels by day to take on even more writing at night, but keep diaries they do.

Now, though, that Linda has a fatal disease, she tells Michael that she's leaving him her diaries to read after she's gone. But, she thinks, that should give her license to read his while she's still alive. Michael doesn't like the idea, and tries to weasel out by saying his diaries are boring. But she still wants to read them, and how can you deny
a dying woman at least one of her last wishes? Soon after Linda begins reading, however, he's sorry he let her. For she learns how much he's loved Abby through the years. Michael met her at a writer's colony when he was just starting out. She was an administrator there, and because she wasn't at all impressed by this "artist," that made him all the more interested. That's what starts the friction in "Fiction," but there's plenty more.

When I consider that I usually see five or six plays a week and I'm lucky if one of them contains even a couple of surprises, I'm happy to say that "Fiction" must offer a half-dozen in the second act alone.
But Dietz provides more than just a few O. Henry-like twists. He's got some pungent observations in his script about the nature of truth vs.fiction. "The lies begin when a writer picks up a pen," he says. Dietz makes an audience believe it.

David Warren directed very well, but I say he had an easier task than most directors have, what with Robert Cuccioli and Laila Robins as his leads.Not just because they're terrific performers -- anyone who's seen them in
their several New Jersey appearances can attest to that -- but in real life, they're an actual couple. So they didn't have any trouble in providing the chemistry of a longtime pair still in love. Even when they argue -- and the play starts off with a witty tiff between the two -- each seems to be enjoying the mental gymnastics in trying to out-maneuver the other.

Cuccioli has those wonderful sad spaniel eyes that beautifully reflect the many melancholy situations in which Michael continually finds himself. Robins has that regal bearing that serves Linda's not only being a
novelist who's found success, but also as a teacher who is intent on doing a good job with her students.
And yet, Abby is the best role. That's partly because both Cuccioli and Robins spend a lot of time sitting at a table just reading a diary. But Marianne Hagan is always busy as Abby. She's a master at giving Michael a
doleful look and letting her arms go slack after he tries to charm her with a joke. But she has a great deal to do with Linda, too, and shows myriad emotions that range from awe to anger.
Well, dear diary, it is getting late and I have to close, but I have a feeling that this won't be the last time I tell you about "Fiction." It's a play that has terrific Broadway potential, and I expect I'll see it again when it reaches New York with, I hope, this exact same cast. And that's the truth.

Copyright 2003 The Star-Ledger.