DEAR MASTER, Writers' Theatre Chicago. "I am not asking you to change your eyes; I am asking you to see more," George Sand says to Gustave Flaubert in Dorothy Bryant's Dear Master, a dialogue in letters between the two great French novelists. Bryant's adaptation of their 20-year correspondence challenges the audience to "see more" through the intense, sometimes oppositional friendship of these 19th-century visionaries.

Despite a somewhat mechanical staging by Kate Buckley, Annabel Armour and William Brown give effective, understated performances. Armour's Sand is as pervasive and subtle as incense, a charming character whose passion for justice is fired by pragmatic intelligence. Brown's Flaubert is a dowdy, tormented, cynical creature who turns to his "dear master" with the desperation and arrogance of a lonely man in self-imposed exile.

The cozy Writer's Theatre space doubles the play's intimacy. Rick Paul's simple set--two cluttered desks tucked at angles into the tiny playing area--suggests the writers' personalities and aesthetics, while Chopin's music provides an emotional sound track for the simple storytelling. Beautiful language, fascinating history, and remarkable people make Dear Master elegant and satisfying theater.

--Carol Burbank

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