2nd Story’s ‘Collected Stories’ – Brilliant Writing, Searing Tale
Some of the most arresting theater around.by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
In Donald Margulies’ wonderful play, “Collected Stories,” the latest from 2nd Story Theatre, a sweet mentor-protégé relationship sours when a young writer weaves intimate tales shared by her teacher into her first novel.
And the results are not pretty. In fact, the last 20 minutes of this brilliant show turn what seemed at first like a long night into some of the most arresting theater around.
Add to that some terrific acting, with just two players — Lynne Collinson as the seasoned scribe, and Gabby Sherba as her admiring student — holding the stage for a good two hours.
I say what seemed like a long night, because the relationship gets off to a pretty predictable start, with Collinson’s Ruth Steiner taking on the role of the wise, overbearing mother figure, and Sherba’s wide-eyed Lisa Morrison lapping it up.
At first Sherba, who has been working with local theaters since her teens, seemed an insufferable college student, self-effacing and trying way too hard to please. But her demeanor changes when, without the help of Steiner, she gets a collection of short stories published in a magazine.
At that point, she awkwardly accepts the praise from the critics and a chance to take the literary world by storm, as Steiner looks on with an air of envy. It’s not so much about Morrison being the bigger talent, it’s that’s she’s young and has all the time in the world, while Steiner has passed her peak.
Through most of the play the two are as close as mother and daughter. But along the way, Steiner shares stories about growing up Jewish in New York and sharing her life with famed poet Delmore Schwartz, a man twice her age who’s circling the drain.
But when Morrison borrows much of that material for her much anticipated first novel, Steiner explodes and their friendship fractures in some of the most riveting theater I’ve seen in a long time.
Collinson, 2nd Story’s Executive Director, is just plain searing, the way she cuts her student down to size, while the naïve Morrison all along thought she was honoring her mentor.
It’s a knockout of a scene, with stinging dialogue, stunning acting and crisp direction from Mark Peckham.
But the whole show looks fabulous, with another striking set from Trevor Elliott, who has created Steiner’s snug lair with 1990s furnishings and a view of a neighboring building shimmering in the rain.
The play, which takes place over the course of six years, is sort of one big crescendo that ends in a thunderclap of betrayal and anger.
True, there may be little that’s new about students rivaling their teachers, but Margulies says it better than anyone I know.