Collected Stories, by Donald Margulies
Prospect Theater Project
520 Scenic Avenue
(209) 549-9341 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday-Sunday, September 24-October 17
Thursday (October 14), 8 pm
Fridays and Saturdays, 8 pm/ Sundays, 2 pm
An upstairs apartment in Greenwich Village. September 1990. The buzzer rings. Someone is waiting downstairs. Ruth, 55 years old, tosses down the key. Soon a young woman enters the apartment. Her name is Lisa Morrison and she’s come for a tutorial –her first– with the distinguished writer Ruth Steiner. Well, maybe Ruth isn’t all that distinguished –she hasn’t published in years– but she’s clearly the Real Thing and that’s what Lisa wants to be.
From the story Lisa had submitted in class for Ruth’s critique, Ruth thought Lisa was another student. “You don’t particularly look like your story,” she says to Lisa. “Almost without exception my students tend to look like their stories.” “So am I not a serious-looking person?” asks Lisa. “No, you’re not.” Thus starts one of the best written scenes I’ve read about what works and what doesn’t in writing. It’s the start of a complicated relationship between established writer Ruth and writer-wannabee Lisa. Over the years, Lisa moves from being Ruth’s pupil to serving as gofer and then confidante to the aging writer. Ruth unveils a long past affair with the poet Delmore Schwartz, who womanized as much as he drank (which is to say constantly). The moment was the high point in her life. Lisa has become the child Ruth never had and so she tells her everything.
But the relationship changes as all relationships do over time, especially those between mentor and pupil. Ruth advises her not to submit a short story to Grand Street but Lisa submits it anyway. It’s accepted, it’s her first published story. Lisa’s first book of short stories is both praised and savaged by the critics and the two women celebrate because at last Lisa is acknowledged as a talent to watch. Their relationship ends in acrimony. Ruth feels betrayed by Lisa. Lisa doesn’t acknowledge what she’s done with Ruth’s confidences and she doesn’t truly care. The ending is strong, filled with feeling, and it rings true.
“The unifying theme [in my plays] is loss,” said playwright Margulies in an interview for PBS. It is the sensitive depiction of loss that ultimately makes Collected Stories so effective and so moving It’s about a relationship (mentor to pupil/pupil to mentor) that many of us –no, most of us –have experienced at some point in our lives and it captures the sense of regret we felt when it ended. Collected Stories was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 and Margulies won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for Dinner with Friends in 2000. Uta Hagen played Ruth in the original New York production; Linda Lavin played her when the play was revived in 2010. Great roles attract great actors.
– David Keymer, for the Prospect Theater Project
Directed by Jack Souza
Starring Karen Olsen and Kathleen Ennis