THE COVER OF LIFE, Circle Theatre. In its glory years Life magazine–which ceases publication in May–acted as a family album for the nation. Playwright R.T. Robinson invents a World War II cover of three brides holding their husbands’ portraits, then imagines the truth behind that propagandistic facade. Kate Miller, a hard-boiled New York reporter, is sent to cover the story of three Louisiana women who married three brothers now fighting overseas.

Instead of a domestic human-interest story, Kate discovers three women undergoing radical changes. Faced with deferred dreams, money troubles, and second thoughts about the men they married, they’ve stumbled into a scary independence. If the men are homesick, the women are sick of home: wartime upheavals scare one wife into overeating; drive another to drink, among other things; and empower the lucky third. In turn the newshound discovers that this “women’s story” is something Life would never print.

Robinson is likewise an excellent reporter, showing a sure grasp of southern slang, country humor, the cultural contrast between Kate and these “steel magnolias,” and America circa 1943. The play remains predictable, with an overt message and at least two endings, but it’s fallen into the right hands at Circle Theatre. Alena Murguia’s sensitive staging boasts a terrific ensemble, especially Bethanny Alexander as the bride who will no longer pose for Life covers and Deanna Norman as the soldiers’ regretful mom.

–Lawrence Bommer