In the mythological version of the 1950s that lives on in the popular imagination, everything was bright and clean, and everyone was charmingly naive. In the real 1950s, American life was quite a bit darker and more complicated than our “Leave it to Beaver” notions.

Take morphine abuse, for instance. It is the dark heart that beats in Michael Gazzo’s play “A Hatful of Rain,” which opened on Broadway in 1955 and was made into a popular film in 1957. The American Repertory Theatre of Western New York opens its version of the play – which it has dubbed “a story of hope, dope and love” – tonight in its Art in the Box theater (16 Linwood Ave.). It runs through March 29.

For director and company founder Matthew LaChiusa, Gazzo’s play was an opportunity to highlight the disturbing undercurrents that flow beneath an apparently civil society. “I was very fascinated by the fact that this piece was written in 1955, at a time when certain dark social secrets were kept in the closet,” LaChiusa said. “This play does have some power and depth in terms of the story.”

LaChiusa noted that Gazzo wrote the character-driven piece with actors in mind. The story follows a Korean War veteran who returns home with a morphine habit, which complicates his already tenuous relationships with his family.

The large cast stars Hugh Davis and Maura Nolan, with Raphael Santos, Victor Morales, Bryan Figueroa, Leo DiBello, Steve Brachman and Brianna Lanoye. Tickets are $15 to $20. Call 634-1102 or visit

– Colin Dabkowski