A haze of pipe smoke creates an atmosphere of tension as the opening scene of “Look Back in Anger” gives way to three characters in a quaint one-room flat.

Before the first line is spoken, there is something obviously dysfunctional about this trio of characters, Jimmy (Jeremy Strong ’01), Cliff (Adam O’Byrne ’01) and Alison (Virginia Smith ’02). Their strained relationships will become the focus of the play.

“Look Back in Anger,” a play by John Osborne, directed by George Cederquist ’01 and produced by John Danilovich ’04, is known for its controversial take on British identity and its role as a turning point for British theater with its criticism of class structure.

The characters live in 1956 post-war Britain. Jimmy, the quintessential “angry, young man,” is trying desperately to find his niche in a society plagued by class barriers.

Jimmy is of the lower class but has married above his station. Exposed to the harsh realities of life at an early age, Jimmy takes his bitterness and contempt out on his wife, Alison. He is angered by her complacency and often lifts his voice hoping to get some response from her. Jimmy’s constant chastisement weakens Alison mentally and physically, to the point of near destruction.

Cliff, one of Jimmy’s business partners and flatmates, often finds himself in the middle of their disputes. Although unclear whether his presence is a catalyst for Jimmy and Alison’s arguments, or if he is a deterrent, it is obvious that “Two is company, three is a crowd.”

Throughout the play, Jimmy rages with splendid eloquence against modern complacency. “Nobody thinks! Nobody cares! No beliefs! No convictions! No enthusiasm!” he snarls of his fellow humans. “They all want to escape from the pain of being alive.”

When Alison’s friend Helena (Vanessa Wolf ’01) arrives perfectly dressed and upright, the play takes an unexpected turn. The last act is sure to shock the audience with its startling plot twist.

Strong gives a forceful and convincing performance as Jimmy, especially taking into consideration the difficulty of his role, which involves constant shouting, monologues and hysteria.

Also worthy of praise is O’Byrne, who never once steps out of character as the awkward and oafish Cliff, and Wolf, who nails the role of Helena with grace and sophistication.

A bit less convincing are the performances of Smith as Alison and Ben Marcovitz ’01 as Colonel Redfern (Alison’s father). Smith’s acting is often forced, although she does ease into her role as the play progresses. Marcovitz goes a bit overboard in his portrayal of an old man.

The actors’ work is beautifully supported by the ’50s costumes supplied by costume designer Margaret Hodes ’04, which are either appropriately shabby or elegant, depending on the character. Abigail Ranger ’01 did a marvelous job on the set. It boasts such abstract elements as a partially constructed brick wall and pieces of roof tile suspended by wire. Yet with such detailed furniture and appliances as armchairs, a coffee table and a stove, the set still had the feel of a 1950’s British residence. Tying together the play are the lighting and sound effects, which serve as counterparts to the script’s constantly changing tone.

All and all, “Look Back In Anger” is a compelling and exciting depiction of lower-class life in1956 England.

“Look Back in Anger”

Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.

Off-Broadway Theater

Tickets: john.danilovich@yale.edu