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Say again? 

Winner of the Alliance Theatre's Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition, the harrowing drama ...," said Said explores the secret history of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Andre Said. Playwright Kenneth Lin reveals such talent and imagination that it's easy to mistake the fictional Said for a real person. Played by Michael Santo in the Alliance Hertz Stage production, Said has a convincingly oversized ego and a complex background, including polyglot ethnic origins, early years as a surgeon and the nickname "the terrorist poet" from his involvement in the French-Algerian War.

Said enjoys literary eminence and failing health from his Vermont home until a visit from a beautiful young student (Kate Donadio) evokes ghosts from his past. Four decades earlier, French authorities imprisoned and tortured Said because of his links to a Muslim resistance group in Algiers. Lin's play builds to a fraught reunion between Said and his eloquent but ruthless former jailer (Victor Slezak), who, in the ensuing four decades, has become a literary expert on Said's work.

...," said Said delves into (at least) two powerful and provocative themes. Partly the play concerns the loss of global languages and national identity -- Donadio's character, a former Croat, mourns the loss of her linguistic birthright as an assimilated American. Lin also examines the justifications for violence among both freedom fighters and political authorities, and whether "goodness" and "brutality" can coexist. Through the character of Said's daughter and literary gatekeeper, Sarah (Jacqueline Antaramian), the play considers the impact of torture on future generations.

To embody so many ideas in so few characters, Lin resorts to a few contrivances too many. Said, among all his other personae, happens to be the last speaker of a "dying" language and left an untranslatable epic on the walls of his Algerian cell. By the second act, Lin's premise feels increasingly detached from reality, no matter how fully fleshed-out his characters seem. ...," said Said features impeccable acting and engrossing sequences, such as Said resisting electric shock by reciting Joycean gibberish. If the play can't quite live up to its many ambitions, it affirms that as a new theatrical talent, Kenneth Lin is the real thing.

...," said Said. Alliance Theatre Hertz Stage. Through April 30. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. $25-$50. 404-733-5000. www.alliancetheatre.org.

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