note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
Donald Margules “Collected Stories” is 2ns Story Theatre’s current production and it brought vividly to life by two sparkling performances that resonate in heart and mind, rich and intriguing. The play was commissioned and premiered by South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, California in October, 1996, directed by Lisa Peterson. The play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist (shortlisted in April 1997).The Manhattan Theatre Club presented the play off-Broadway, at Manhattan Theatre Club Stage I, from May 20, 1997 through July 27, 1997.
Ruth Steiner is a teacher and respected short story writer. Her student and protégée is Lisa Morrison. Over the course of 6 years, Lisa journeys from insecure, naive student to successful writer who is getting to be as famous as her mentot. After publishing a well-received collection of short stories, Lisa writes a novel based on Ruth's affair with the poet Delmore Schwartz when she was young. It creates a rift between them, driving a wedge deeper between the women. The women deal with the moral dilemma of whether a person's life events are suitable for another to use in their own creative process.
The first act evolves as the two women become closer, Lisa the sycophant, fawning over her adored idol and teacher. Ruth, become motherly, sharing not only wisdom from writing, but tales of growing up Jewish in New York and her affair with poet Delmore Schwartz which left an indelible and persona mark on her life. These are tales she means not to tell as she points out some things are not meant to be told when Lisa asks if she has written it yet. When Lisa borrows this for her novel their relationship explodes into a massive battle of betrayal and fears.
Lynne Collinson, Executive Director of 2nd Story Theatre is Ruth Steiner. Ruth is independent, crusty, suspicious and guarded as well as savvy in the ways for writers and the writer’s world. She was noticed for her collection of short stories, catapulted into the limelight and then, over the passing years allowed to slip back into a somewhat obscurity, known mainly as a teacher and not as much as a writer any longer. She keeps the world at bay and warily, reluctantly allows her new student into this rich past with shared stories that she has guarded for years. Collinson is wonderful in the role, full of passion and packed with sincerity as she negotiates the tricky straits between mentor and wounded woman. The fireworks for the final scene with Sherba are explosive and impressive, memorable on so many levels. It is a brilliant performance.
Gabby Sherba is Lisa Morrison, Ruth’s protégé who goes through several years from nervous, shy student to a young writer moving into her own after a successful collection of stories and on the verge of publishing her first novel. She starts off talented, needy and ambitious, if a bit over solicitous. She is looking for an artistic parent figure and has found it in Ruth. She deftly handles the transition from meek, adoring student of writer coming into her own with finesse and honesty. This too is a spectacular performance.
What evolves here is two excellent performances, sure to linger in the memory for a long time rich, nuanced and vivid and truthful. Lisa in an act she believes to be a testament to her mentor appropriates elements of the tale for her much anticipated first novel. For Ruth, it is an act of total betrayal and perfidy. The explosion between the two is magnificent theater, haunting and inescapable.
Director Mark Peckham keeps everything vividly on course with an incredible array of emotional impact and richness. His directing is crisp and multidimensional.
The set by Trevor Elliot is brilliant, rich in detail as it recreates a 1990 apartment complete with walls loaded with art and shelves packed with books and the view from the window of the next door building in the rain.
These are performances ripe with integrity and sincerity, full of fine touches and dense with a range of emotions all truthful and glowing. The two are spellbinding and wonderful performances that never miss their mark. It is riveting and compelling theater, particularly the final scene which is magnetic and searing, magnificent theatre.
“Collected Stories” runs through Feb 8 at 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market St., Warren. Tickets are $30, $21 for those 21 and younger. Call (401) 247-4200, or visit 2ndstorytheatre.com.