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Summer Cyclone

Presented by and at The Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52 St., NYC, Feb. 26-March 18.

Playwright Amy Fox is a very graceful, sophisticated writer. Her new play, "Summer Cyclone," isn't afraid to tackle powerful themes and difficult material. As directed by Nela Wagman, the play is honest, poignant, and sincere. On the other hand, this story of an artist searching for her equilibrium as the rules of romance and medicine are turned upside down is as episodic as a film script. Although realistic and believable, the endless array of short scenes continually breaks the mood and the continuity.

Jenna Stern plays Lucia, an artist in mosaic, who is awaiting a mastectomy. Chosen as a participant in a clinical drug trial, she meets medical intern Eugene, who is attracted to her. When she and Eugene begin dating after a visit to Coney Island just before her operation, questions of a conflict of interest and his being younger suddenly become unpleasant problems. Demanding certainty from her doctors and friends, Lucia discovers that she is on a summer roller coaster ride.

At first, Stern seems to be underplaying her role, possibly depicting emotional numbness; her character and performance deepen as situations complicate Lucia's life. As Lucia's ex-husband, Chris Ceraso is so sensitive that it is hard to understand why they were ever divorced. Johnny Giacalone's Eugene has just the right amount of innocence and inexperience as he tries to deal with his own insecurity as well as Lucia's.

As Lucia's dead mother who returns as a ghost, Christine Farrell tries for an uneasy blend of reality and fantasy. James DeMarse, Eugene's doctor father, runs a subtle line between eccentricity and distraction. As an intern colleague in love with Eugene, Amy Staats is convincingly awkward in his presence. Set designers George Xenos and Dorothea Brunialti are only partially successful with the plot's seemingly endless changes of locales.

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