Moments of Beeing

Keep Your Emotional Distance, and They All Look Like Insects

Deborah Grimberg's bees are swarming offstage, in the back garden of the North London grocery store where The Honey Maker is set, not nearly so cozy a place as the Humbles' lavishly landscaped abode. Yet a similar lackadaisical feeling overcomes the work, although Grimberg, now a New York resident, has active political and philosophic notions that she persistently pushes into her script, as if they could drive the action without help from the characters, all of whom exhibit an intriguing lassitude for people apparently caught in the middle of a race riot. In Tom Rowan's stilted production, even the skinhead racist who intrudes on this awkward encounter between a couple of storekeepers and a beekeeper seems tentative. Thom Rivera captures the grocer's discomfiture convincingly enough, but this is the kind of play in which people laboriously explain that they're Uganda-born Indians while a mob of toughs yelling "Pakis" threatens to burn down their store. As Shaw complained about a literary critic who analyzed the style of his political essays, "It was as if I told him his house was on fire and he replied, 'How admirably monosyllabic.' " But maybe Grimberg's view of racial tensions in North London is such that she would say the equivalent of that to me; I wish her play were better so I could share her alarm.

I wish most of its companions on the Series A bill were better, too: Susan Kim's Memento Mori begins strikingly, and has a divertingly weird turn by Cecelia deWolf in the showier of its two roles. But this duologue of codependent women with empty lives attempting to lunch out during a 9-11-style disaster gets stuck at an early point and reiterates instead of developing. Billy Aronson's Of Two Minds, a twisted tale of two unhappy families who get their dysfunctions hopelessly intertangled, has some good laughs and some neat twists, but drags at the top and ends too patly, though Jamie Richardson's zippy production contains two appealingly apt turns by Annie Campbell and Ian Reed Kesler as the middle layer in its generational sandwich of romantic confusions. Garry Williams's A Blooming of Ivy, nicely staged by Richmond Hoxie, is a piece of old-fashioned romantic hokum down to the corny title pun on its heroine's name; its chief asset is the mixed sparkle and grit of Phyllis Somerville's work as the farm-bound widow who gets an unexpected chance at love. Romulus Linney's quizzical Coda, smoothly effective in Julie Boyd's quiet, skillful staging, is an American trip through the familiar territory of Sartre's No Exit; it has what most of its predecessors on the bill lack, a strong shape, and it has Linney's lucid way with words, as well as a pleasant performance by Helen Coxe, but not much else.

Blair Brown and Jared Harris in Humble Boy: a bug in the metaphor
photo: Joan Marcus
Blair Brown and Jared Harris in Humble Boy: a bug in the metaphor


Humble Boy
By Charlotte Jones
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street

Marathon 2003
Ensemble Studio Theatre
549 West 52nd Street

Don't weep for the art of the short play, however. EST may very well have stronger material hidden away in Series B, which begins June 1 and includes works by Leslie Ayvazian, John Guare, and Tina Howe. And there are four other bills of one-acts playing at other Manhattan venues. Nor, though it lacks the high spots of previous Marathons, is Series A notably painful to sit through: The one kind of short piece it lacks that's regularly a feature of these events is the numbingly boring, seemingly interminable one. But if I start thinking about that, I'll doze off, lulled by the hum of tiny winged insects. Summer's definitely here; if you insist on opening plays, at least try to see that the ticket buyers don't get stung. Otherwise we may all decide it's safer outside.

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