The problem is that apparently they'd rather remember the story of a bad marriage, like that of "Tom and Viv." Tom and Viv were poet T.S. Eliot and his wife Vivien, ne'e Haigh-Wood. After a controversial and widely acclaimed run in London, the Michael Hastings play that takes one of the worst marriages in history and puts it in front of an audience has traveled from the Royal Court to the Public Theater (424 Lafayette St.), no worse for the trip.

The controversy, which reared before the play opened in London, went on in several circles. Some moaned about the cliche' of bad artistic marriages as grist for the theater. Feminists complained about the treatment of the beleaguered wife. Not to mention that Eliot remains one of the most revered 20th-century poets, expatriate or otherwise.

To these charges Hastings responded that he had given both the marriage and its subjects fair treatment. After some deliberation, he left out Eliot's anti-Semitism. And on the feminist count, Hastings has a ready answer: "At least," he says, "I didn't call the play 'Tom's Wife.' I originally wanted to call it that, but my own wife said, 'You can't do that!'"