The Pitmen Painters

Directed by Kurt Beattie, Lee Hall's endearing hit about English coal miners during the 1930s-'40s who get turned on to art—a true story—is like watching an affecting, informative slideshow with a few duplicate images. These adult self-improvement students ruefully tolerate passionate and patronizing art teacher Mr. Lyon (a dapper Frank Lawler). Charles Leggett deadpans George, the union administrator, for whom everything is a violation of some rule or other. R. Hamilton Wright slays as Harry, a "dental mechanic" with socialist sensibilities. Jason Marr has the fullest character arc as Oliver, whose talent attracts patroness Helen Sutherland (marvelous Morgan Rowe), but whose pride resists her help. But many of the most enviable lines go to Joseph P. McCarthy as thick, whiny Jimmy whose Geordie accent ("I just come to get oot the hoose") occasionally sounded Bronx-y to me, but my British friend bought it. When the miners lose themselves in art and forget their class, their intelligence shines. All they need is an opportunity—a theme familiar from Hall's Oscar-nominated script for Billy Elliot. A few forced story elements notwithstanding, this beautiful production will win your heart. Only Hall hasn't written a simple, cheerful Billy Elliott sequel here. Arts and education funding can be transformative, he reminds us, but those same benefits can heartbreakingly disappear during times of austerity. Though set in the industrial past, his 2007 play is very much relevant to our current economy, too. MARGARET FRIEDMAN [See Margaret's full review.]

Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: April 20. Continues through May 20, 2012

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