Saturday, May 8, 2010

Collected Stories

If you don’t want to spend the $120 or so for a ticket to see Collected Stories revived on Broadway, just get “All About Eve” out of the library and watch it again. Same story, only the film has more interesting characters and is better written.

Too bad because the acting in Donald Margulies' 1996 play is fine, although the characters portrayed are stereotypical. Linda Lavin (left in photo) plays Ruth Steiner, a successful short story writer living in a book-filled apartment in Greenwich Village. (Nice set by Santo Loquasto.) Sarah Paulson (right) is Lisa Morrison, one of her students who ambitiously weasels her way into Ruth’s life through flattery, becoming her dutiful assistant.

As time goes on, Lisa begins getting her work published, thanks to Ruth’s guidance, and ends up writing a novel based on a stories Ruth had told her about her early life. Ruth feels betrayed and threatens to sue, saying she might want to writer her own story someday.

I guess we’re supposed to question the morality of this -- Collected Stories is inspired by a real incident in which a man charged a student with plagiarism -- but the situation didn’t seem ambiguous to me. Ruth had taught Lisa that writers borrow from each other all the time -- they collect stories. She also advised Lisa never to talk about a piece she was planning to write because the telling relieves the pressure to write. Lisa says she took that as an indication that Ruth had no plans to tell her own story and was giving it to Lisa. Neither character was likable to me, so I felt no distress for Ruth nor any triumph for Lisa.

Lavin has received a Tony nomination for her performance. The production received no Drama Desk nominations.

This is the second play by Margulies I’ve seen this season. His Time Stands Still, starring Laura Linney, preceded Stories at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Both were produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, whose shows I more often than not don’t like. Stories is directed by MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow.

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