`Collected Stories’

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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

August 26, 1998. All rights reserved.

Simon Saltzman

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`Collected Stories’

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

Margulies,

brings the extraordinary actor (and famed teacher of actors)

triumphantly

back to the stage. Once again, under William Carden’s direction, Hagen

creates a poignant, eccentrically punctuated portrait of a compelling

stage character.

Margulies, whose plays ("The Loman Family Picnic," "Sight

Unseen") are noted for their provocative subject matter and

trenchant

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

memoirs.

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

post-middle

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

focuses

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

successfully

to become Ruth’s personal assistant. This connection eventually opens

the door for Ruth to reveal to Lisa details of an intimate

relationship

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

authoritative

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,

entertaining,

and thought-provoking theater. HHH

Collected Stories, Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher

Street, New York. Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $42.50

to $47.50.


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