APRIL 2022 | Volume 214
Collected Stories by Donald Margulies.
by Donald Margulies
Log House Productions
Revue Stage, Granville Island
Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories tells an old archetypal tale in a specific near-contemporary setting: an Oedipus story, a Frankenstein story, set in late twentieth century New York literary circles. The traditional male plot gets a nice twist in this two-hander in which the generational conflict concerns two women writers.
Margulies zooms in on his characters by limiting the action to a single Manhattan apartment where the shifting dynamics of affection, ambition and power showcase two fine performances in this independent production directed by Roman Podhora.
The play takes place over about a decade, beginning when Lisa (Avery Crane), a giddy young creative writing student, pays a visit to the apartment of her professor, Ruth (Jennifer Fahrni). Ruth is a well-known short story writer, famous enough to have authors like Norman Mailer and Susan Sontag calling her. But her best days are clearly behind her and she has been reduced to teaching and grumbling.
Initially dismissive and critical, Ruth eventually succumbs to Lisa’s persistence and over-the-top hero worship, hiring her as an assistant. She sees some potential in Lisa’s writing, but Ruth’s loneliness and isolation motivate her just as much. As the scenes move forward in time, we see the women bonding, still mentor and mentee, but also friends and confidantes.
As Lisa begins publishing and gaining success as a writer, she becomes more and more independent of Ruth, whose possessiveness becomes evident. Their relationship reaches a breaking point when Lisa publishes a novel based on stories about Ruth’s life that Ruth has confided in her. Who has the right to tell what stories—a political conundrum familiar to our own time—will become the play’s thematic crux. But its emotional power lies in the personal, the issues of control and selfhood, loyalty and betrayal, integrity and love, thrashed out in a climactic scene played at high voltage and volume.
Fahrni is especially impressive. Her Ruth simmers in misery and self-pity while revealing multiple levels of need and affection for Lisa. Her acting has a relaxed, naturalistic quality; and except for one mispronounced Yiddish-ism (the u-sound in nudge), she utterly convinces as a Jewish New Yorker. Crane’s Lisa seems unconvincingly naïve at first (for a Princeton graduate!) and excessively needy. But she grows into the character’s Waspy sangfroid, and shows a nice balance between her care for and gratitude towards Ruth on the one hand, and her own writerly ambition on the other.You don’t need to be familiar with the play’s literary environment—the fleeting fame of Delmore Schwartz, the high status of the 92nd Street Y—to appreciate the personal drama of these two women, mother and daughter surrogates, Creator and Creature, one who rises as the other fades.
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