We may only be four weeks into the new year but for the rest of 2001 the question that will be asked about every new play in town will be: "Well, was it as good as 'Misfits'?" The Barksdale Theatre's world-premiere presentation of this spellbinding tale of fame and dysfunction succeeds on every level imaginable: The story is subtle and intense, the acting is impeccable, the dialogue is smart, savage, and often hilarious. I could go on. But the best adjective for this show is simply "brave." It was brave of playwright Alex Finlayson to write a story about sex goddess Marilyn Monroe and "Death of a Salesman" scribe Arthur Miller. Then she dares to make them fully three-dimensional: foul-mouthed, strung-out and often duplicitous. Finally, she goes even further by making her play a circuitous and ambiguous exploration of the motivations of these characters, showing an audacious respect for her audience. Jeanne Boisineau could be considered brave just for taking on the role of the world's most famous blonde bombshell, but the actress also demonstrates deeper levels of courage in her intricate portrayal. Not only must she bare her body - spending the first half of the 90-minute play naked in and out of bed - but furthermore, she lays open her heart. While the events of only one night are portrayed here, we see a lifetime of ambition, heartache and abuse in Boisineau's performance. The results are not always pretty - Boisineau's Monroe is a pathetic bundle of insecurity, immaturity and bad manners - but they are consistently moving. The night that is depicted occurs late in the production of Monroe's last movie, "The Misfits." Monroe has returned to the Reno, Nev., set after the movie's producers sent her to a Los Angeles hospital to get off drugs. Though Arthur Miller (Rick Brandt) wrote the movie specifically for Monroe, it is soon obvious that the production has driven their relationship to the breaking point. As Miller becomes increasingly hostile to Monroe, she takes solace in her friendship with her washed-up co-star, Montgomery Clift (Sean Twomey), who is battling his own demons. Twomey proves the perfect foil for Boisineau in a truly staggering performance: fresh, funny and real. Though saddled with the responsibility of being the villain of this piece, Brandt also does dynamic work here, clearly showing the broken heart that lies beneath his frustration and fury. The rest of the cast is uniformly strong, but Chaunteé Schuler as the maid, Mona, finds the most moments to shine. Her simple prayer for Marilyn near the show's end has the quiet power of a tsunami. Though he relies on some heavy-handed percussion for dramatic emphasis in a couple of scenes, Randy Strawderman directs "Misfits" with sensitivity and flair. Both Strawderman and playwright Finlayson deserve credit for leaving the nefarious subplot involving the mob and the movie's financing in the background, where it is much more intriguing. In the forefront remains the story of a sensitive soul, battered by the business she was in, struggling to stay afloat. In bringing this story to life, the Barksdale has produced the first unconditional hit of the year.