WHALE MUSIC, Constellation Players, at the Athenaeum Theatre. This exquisite group portrait by English author Anthony Minghella (who wrote the screenplay for The English Patient) is a joy–a real find. Compassionate but never cloying, it focuses on Caroline, a young woman who leaves university to cope with an unwanted pregnancy, returning home to a decaying coastal resort in the south of England. Minghella surrounds this independent young woman (played here by Julie Granata without a single wrong reaction) with firm friends, old and new, who alternately try to harden Caroline against what’s coming, teach her to avoid their mistakes, and offer unconditional support (the two possible fathers offer no support and are never seen).

Boldly painted by the playwright and well realized in Dan Winkler’s unimprovable staging, the fours friends are Stephanie Glazer as a pregnancy-savvy mother; Leslie Charipar as a former teacher who cares, passionately and unrequitedly, for Caroline; Janine Shouse as a callow punk; and Kymberly Mellen as Caroline’s tough-loving landlady–a role any actor would covet, and in which Mellen discovers a lifetime of survivor’s resilience. In the pivotal role of Caroline’s mother, J. Kingsford Goode effectively contrasts the family with the friends: as always in theater, it’s hardest to make a choice between one good and another. Much careful labor went into every minute of Whale Music, but it’s nothing to the love behind it.

–Lawrence Bommer