Noël Coward may have died thirty-six years ago, but his work remains as adaptable and relevant as ever, as proven in the second Bay Area production of a Coward play this year -- after CalShakes' Private Lives this summer. This show is Brief Encounter at the A.C.T., which is actually the name of the 1945 movie made from Coward's 1939 play Still Life, which he considered to be one of his best. The production comes direct from London and originated with the Kneehigh Theatre Company in Cornwall, who got their start in 1980 doing experimental children's theater and hence the name "kneehigh." It's directed and brilliantly adapted by Emma Rice, who brings to the show an incredible freshness of vision, complete with a number of experimental touches and a host of Noël Coward-penned songs which serve as interludes between scenes and which were never part of the original play or film.

The result is joyous and poignant and wholly original, and frankly one of the best pieces of theater we've ever seen. Still Life was the simple story of two middle class people who meet each other in a train station refreshment room, feel an immediate connection, and go about having a tortured and very British affair for several months. The movie rearranged some scenes and attempted to complicate the drama by complicating the time sequence, a la Citizen Kane.