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Saturday, 08 May 2010 20:08

Broadway Review: COLLECTED STORIES

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Linda Lavin in COLLECTED STORIES
Linda Lavin in Collected Stories
Photo: Joan Marcus
Collected Stories by Donald Margulies is an enjoyable but slow moving piece that takes a long time to get to the conflict. Linda Lavin is literary maven Ruth Steiner. It is enjoyable watching Lavin, her performance fabulously understated. Her character is an accomplished author whose creative life seems to have waned as she settled into teaching at a university. She has lived in the same West Village New York City apartment, neat and dense with books and tchotchkes for 31 years.

Ruth is a controlled and sarcastic woman, a loner. She lived the beatnik life in the 60's as lover to Delmore Schwartz, the famous poet. But that's long gone and she now finds herself alone.

The student, Lisa, an aspiring writer pertly played by Sarah Paulson, is a starstruck, ambitious noodge who knows an opportunity when she sees one. She comes to Ruth's for a tutoring session and winds up ingratiating herself into Ruth's life for six years, with part of that time being spent as her assistant. She has written her own story "Snacking Between Meals" based on her battle with bulimia. It has caught Ruth's attention.

Lisa worships Ruth and in exchange, Ruth opens up to Lisa about her relationship with Delmor Schwartz and things she probably has never talked to anyone about before. In Lisa's eyes Ruth has lived a remarkable life. It is this life, this story, or the ownership thereof that threatens the bond between the two women.

Once a story has been told, whose story is it? Lisa is about to tell Ruth about a project she has in mind for her next book. Ruth interrupts her saying "Telling takes away the need to write it. It relieves the pressure. And once that tension dissipates, so does the need to relieve it. First write it, then we’ll talk about it." Ruth no doubt regretted saying this to Lisa. For had she not silenced her, she might not have found her life appropriated by Lisa for her current book. She suddenly is shaken by the fact that her life is no longer her own.

Linda Lavin and Sarah Paulson in COLLECTED STORIES
Linda Lavin and Sarah Paulson in
Collected Stories

Photo: Joan Marcus

Margulies' story has a steady, organic flow to it. As the six years progress you not only see the changes in these women, you feel them. Lisa is on to book appearances at the 92nd Street Y to read from her new book while Ruth is at home under the care of a home-health nurse, the two going weeks between seeing each other. Lynn Meadow's direction maintains Margulies' even pace. All that said, it's just not as engaging as Mr. Margulies' other works. Time Stands Still, which preceded this production had far more interesting characters than the bland Lisa of Collected Stories.

It looks like Manhattan Theatre Club is having a "Donald Margulies/Breaking Up is Hard to Do Season." Both Collected Stories and Time Stands Still are by Mr. Margulies and both end with our protagonists going their separate ways.

Mention must be made of Santo Loquasto's perfectly appointed set. It replicates a New York City apartment that without question has been lived in for more than 30 years.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Lavin's and Ms. Paulson's performances. The play itself was fine, just not spectacular. Ms. Lavin has been nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for this role, a nomination she deserves.

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Last modified on Friday, 18 June 2010 11:35