Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
August 26, 1998. All rights reserved.
There was a fear that the eminent Uta Hagen’s stunning
performance last season as the title character in Nicholas Wright’s
play, "Mrs. Klein," would be her farewell stage appearance.
Now another fine play, "Collected Stories" by Donald
brings the extraordinary actor (and famed teacher of actors)
back to the stage. Once again, under William Carden’s direction, Hagen
creates a poignant, eccentrically punctuated portrait of a compelling
Margulies, whose plays ("The Loman Family Picnic," "Sight
Unseen") are noted for their provocative subject matter and
humor, took his inspiration for "Collected Stories" from the
actual court case in which British poet Stephen Spender (now deceased)
accused novelist David Leavitt of borrowing liberally from his
The poet sued the writer who had appropriated the intimate (published)
details of the poet’s life in his novel. The poet sued and won.
In "Collected Stories," Hagen plays Ruth, a renowned author
and college professor of creative writing, living alone in her
years in her Greenwich Village apartment (given a well-worn, bookish
ambiance by designer Ray Recht). Ruth extends an invitation for a
private tutorial to Lisa (Lorca Simons), a promising, over-eager,
and nosy graduate student.
"Knock it off," shouts Ruth to the overbearing young woman
who is hardly subtle about what Ruth rightly describes as "sucking
up to her." The play takes place over a six-year period. It
on the testy but invaluable bonding that grows between Lisa, who is
afraid at first that Ruth sees her as a sycophant or as just plain
stupid, and Ruth, who takes pride in being difficult.
Their relationship warms after Lisa campaigns
to become Ruth’s personal assistant. This connection eventually opens
the door for Ruth to reveal to Lisa details of an intimate
she had as a young woman with a much older man, a famed poet —
memories she has long cherished and kept private and confidential.
Taking Ruth’s words as her gospel and guide ("Using the elements
of truth, I spin a little tale"), but concealing her actions from
Ruth, Lisa submits her first novel manuscript.
Do the situations and characters that Ruth recognizes in Lisa’s novel
constitute a breach and betrayal of trust? Has Lisa been guilty of
appropriating Ruth’s life? While it isn’t difficult to speculate on
the "All About Eve" elements in both this relationship and
plot, "Collected Stories" is not really about devious doings
and manipulative behavior. Rather, through the generous use of crisp,
witty, and funny dialogue shared by both actors, Margulies poses for
us the inherent and ever present-danger of the protege who is able
to self-servingly sap the life from, and ultimately usurp the power
of, their mentor.
Resting uneasily between slightly abrasive and tenaciously sweet,
Simons’s performance as the young writer who honestly defends her
actions to Ruth is right on target; hers is the play’s most telling
and disturbing line: "You taught me to be ruthless." That
the brilliant Hagen never loses sight of the vulnerable Ruth’s
edge gives added spark to a glittering performance and, indeed, her
angered but heartbreaking question to Lisa, "Have you no moral
conscience? You have appropriated my life." This is good,
and thought-provoking theater. HHH
Street, New York. Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $42.50
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