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COLLECTED STORIES, Organic Theater Company. I never believed the old theater saw that 90 percent of direction is casting--until I watched Ina Marlowe's staging of Donald Margulies's beautifully written two-person play. Every gesture, every pause, every breath from Roslyn Alexander as a veteran writer and Jessica Young as her young student adds to the drama and pathos of this touching work. As the young writer finds her path and the older one loses her footing, Young and Alexander play off each other with the ease and grace of two people who enjoy each other's company and know just what to do to make the other comfortable. And Marlowe's blocking has never seemed more natural or more essential to the story.

The only time this Organic production stumbles is during the final ten minutes, when Alexander's character turns from nurturing mother-substitute into jealous bitch. Alexander (best known to me as the perennially likable Jewish mother in James Sherman's light comedies) doesn't seem at home playing the evil queen, and her raving begins to feel flat and melodramatic. To be fair, however, the problem also lies in Margulies's script: trying too hard to be hip, he closes two hours of perfection with an abrupt bit of unearned pessimism. It's as if the playwright couldn't bear to end the story on a hopeful or bittersweet note but had to bring us all down with the curtain. --Jack Helbig

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