Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Two Women


Collected Stories

Written by Donald Margulies

Directed by Lynne Meadow

Starring Linda Lavin, Sarah Paulson

April 6-June 13, 2010

Friedman Theater, 252 West 47th Street


Pulitzer Prize winner for his wryly-observed Dinner with Friends, Donald Margulies has also written Sight Unseen, Brooklyn Boy and, earlier this year, the Tony-nominated Time Stands Still at the Manhattan Theater Club, which ends its season reviving his 1996 two-hander, Collected Stories, containing the most stimulating onstage talk anywhere.

Margulies’ plays are moral without moralizing: Time Stands Still deals with important post-9/11 matters—like liberal guilt, which became even more pronounced post-Iraq and Katrina—but couching those concerns in an involving drama about two different couples whose relationships don’t embody the causes they espouse.

Margulies makes no apologies for his intelligent, intellectual characters. Collected Stories introduces Ruth, minor but successful author turned professor, and Lisa, her writing student who becomes her assistant, friend, confidant and, lastly, rival. Ruth, who lives in a Greenwich Village apartment (beautifully appointed by set decorator Santo Loquasto), invites Lisa over to discuss her writing as part of a seminar Ruth teaches. Over the course of several years, we watch the women’s roles slowly reverse until Lisa—with a hit book of short stories to her credit—writes a follow-up novel cribbed from Ruth’s own history, which strains their relationship to the point of breaking.

In fleetly written scenes, Margulies dissects a society where aspects of anyone’s lives, no matter how secretive, are fodder for others to make public, no matter how gossipy. The women’s discussions range from Lisa’s embarrassingly valley-girlish inflections to Ruth’s reminisces about the great writers she met when she first came to the city. In the middle is a pointed—and, it turns out, pivotal—argument over Woody Allen’s affair with Mia Farrow’s daughter Soon Yi, to Lisa’s consternation and Ruth’s rationalizing. Throughout, there is Margulies’ adult, crisp dialogue to propel it all forward.

Linda Lavin’s commanding Ruth has a firm grasp of her many contradictions, only turning uncomfortably shrill during the ladies’ final blow-up. Sarah Paulson’s Lisa isn’t as fully-realized (more a fault of the author than the actress), but the actress nicely catches both the young upstart and the mature author who gives a spirited defense against Ruth’s charge that she stole her life for a new book.

Lynne Meadow’s slyly understated direction never lets the women’s talk go slack. If Collected Stories isn’t top-drawer Margulies, there’s much food for thought in this small story with large reverberations.

originally posted on timessquare.com

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