Near the end of John Kolvenbach’s sweet, strange romantic comedy, Molly Regan and Ian Barford as disparate siblings sit together in quiet rapport, smoking imaginary cigarettes. One can almost see the smoke whorling above their heads, and yet of course they’re not doing anything that could really damage them. The moment serves as the play’s own commentary on Kolvenbach’s defiantly sentimental but smart defense of the role of imagination (or even delusion) in keeping human relationships alive. Austin Pendleton’s masterful direction of this Steppenwolf world premiere brings out every shading of Kolvenbach’s fable, and his vibrant cast (which includes Francis Guinan and Mariann Mayberry as the romantic partners of Regan and Barford) delivers performances so lively, funny, soulful, silly, and brave that I wouldn’t mind having all these characters as my imaginary friends. a Through 6/4: see for complete schedule. Through 5/9: Tue-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat-Sun 3 and 7:30 PM, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, downstairs theater, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650, $20-$60.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.