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Marathon 2003: Series A

Presented by and at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52 St., NYC, May 12-29. Casting by Paul Russell.

The theme of the Ensemble Studio Theatre's "Marathon 2003: Series A" was couples under duress. The acting was uniformly excellent and all five one-act plays were absorbing. However, the standout was Garry Williams' "A Blooming of Ivy," exquisitely directed by Richmond Hoxie and acted by Phyllis Somerville and James Rebhorn.

Somerville played a widowed farmer who receives an unexpected romantic visit from a friend of 45 years who is having trouble dealing with the recent death of his wife. The wisdom and sincerity of the writing and acting elevated this simple tale of unlikely lovers to the level of poetry.

The curtain raiser was Susan Kim's "Memento Mori," inspired by the events of Sept. 11. A self-absorbed older woman (played by Laura Kenyon, subbing for Cecilia deWolf) and a younger, neurotic businesswoman (Amy Staats) meet for dinner in a deserted restaurant after a national disaster. Although the actresses were most convincing under the direction of Abigail Zealey Bess, the play remained an undeveloped premise.

Conversely, Billy Aronson's "Of Two Minds," directed by Jamie Richards, appeared to be a full-length play compressed into a one-act. Five characters from two families live several interlocking stories, but none knows about the others. Geneva Carr and Annie Campbell were Kathy and Elizabeth, respectively mother and daughter, both in love with the same man, and Brad Bellamy, Ian Reed Kesler, and Conor White played Kathy's boss and his two sons. All delineated their characters well, but could not shape the material.

"The Honey Makers" by Deborah Grimberg, under Tom Rowan's direction, was the most powerful piece, but contained a flawed bee metaphor. Thom Rivera and Cori Thomas were an Indian couple whose North London grocery store is beset by both skinheads and bees. Though industrious as bees, they are paralyzed when rioters threaten their existence, lacking any ability to fight back, which bees with their stingers certainly possess. Jake Myers was frightening as the tough and Bill Cwikowski added a fascinating quirkiness to the beekeeper.

The evening ended with Romulus Linney's "Coda," a fantasy for voices. Directed by Julie Boyd, Thomas Lyons, Joseph Siravo, Helen Coxe, and Jane Welch were excellent as four people who meet in purgatory after selfish lives, but the play seemed both thin and familiar.

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