Plays about successful, smug writers are hardly new. But playwright Steven Dietz takes the old formula and gives it a clever new twist by turning his husband-wife pair of novelists against each other. Bad news from the wife's doctor leads to an agreement to share their private journals with one another, and it isn't long before the wife discovers that writing isn't the only recreational activity at a writers' retreat. The ensuing confrontation, after all the years she spent supporting and nurturing his craft, is one we deliciously anticipate most of the first act. But anticipation turns into disappointment when, after one scene of showdown, Dietz suddenly lets his dueling writers off the hook. Instead of raw emotion behind flowery words, the second act is full of thoughtful monologues and abbreviated scenes about things like truth versus fiction and authenticity in authorship. These are all perfectly interesting ideas, smoothly presented to us by director Richard Harder's sure-handed production. But all this elucidation about the nature of the world ultimately gets in the way of the compelling drama between a husband and wife that Dietz sets up so beautifully and then fails to fully tell. Molly Rhodes
Through March 31 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason St., 6th Floor (between Geary and Post), S.F. Tickets are $25-30; call 440-6163 or visit www.offbroadwaywest.org.