Noël Coward's Brief Encounter, a classic 1945 British film directed by David Lean and adapted from Coward's one-act play Still Life, tells the story of a middle-class London mom's forbidden romance with a dashing married doctor. Every Thursday, Laura heads into town to do the shopping for her family and take in a matinee; it is during one of these routine outings that she first meets Dr. Alec Harvey in the train station. (He removes a piece of grit from her eye.) A second chance encounter marks the beginning of an affair which, though never consummated, offers both a weekly escape from suburban domestication, and also sends Laura into a spiral of guilt-wracked inner torment.

A new theatrical adaptation of the melodrama, which blends live performance, music, dance, and film, has now arrived at St. Ann's Warehouse, after hit runs in London and San Francisco. The enchanting production, by Cornwall's Kneehigh Theatre Company, recreates the heart-rending romance of the original while injecting it with boldly imaginative physical theatricality. Upon entering the lobby at St. Ann's, one encounters several of the performers, dressed as '40s movie ushers, playing old-timey jazz on upright bass and banjolin. Their festive tone carries throughout the ninety minute confection, which deploys endlessly inventive theatrical devices to transport the audience into a magical world. (It begins when Laura rises from the audience and literally steps through the movie screen and into the film.)

While the play never explicitly reveals what makes their love affair so passionate, director Emma Rice's ingenious staging transforms a dramatically muted story into an engrossing experience. In many ways the vague treatment of Alec and Laura's love echoes the difficultly one has explaining what creates passion and why love can be all-consuming, even in the face of reason. While their romance is, for the most part, presented superficially, Brief Encounter's theatricality mines a deep vein of delight. There's now talk of the production transferring to Broadway, but don't blow this brief opportunity to encounter it now.