Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies once said that he loves “. . .smart, complicated women. . .”
Well, in just two hours (with an intermission) he lets us look in on two females who meet that criteria, and more. “Collected Stories” takes place entirely in the Greenwich Village apartment of one Ruth Steiner, an award-winning author/professor. She's sharp as a whip, tight as a drum and both prissy and provocative. Lives alone and likes it. Or at least thinks she does.
Enter Lisa Morrison a graduate student, young, bright, unsure, driving and driven. She is absolutely thrilled to be in the company of the famous (in certain literary circles) woman writer. You can tell because, as Lisa puts it to Professor Steiner, “What a privilege to be breathing in your air space.”
From there, playwright Margulies wends through stories that become ever-more personal.
We learn that Ruth had a troubled childhood, living in crumpled New York apartments, short on money, long on disturbed parents. But her brains and her drive led her to the top of her profession. She writes incisive poetry and short stories published in the best places, the top intellectual journals. Never married, her work is her life. She's proud and seemingly comfortable in her skin. On the other hand, Lisa comes from a comfortable background, well-off parents, Ivy League schools, psycho-therapy as needed.
At first she is on cloud nine, amazed to know the Professor, thrilled to sit at her feet. But things change, slowly, surely. As Ruth ages and faces illness, Lisa becomes well-known, successful, a literary lady around town.
Here is where Margulies is at his best.
Lisa publishes something that appalls and hurts Ruth to the core. The playwright then digs into these two women. His play asks searching questions about their rights and wrongs, their intentions both both known and unknown.
“Collected Stories” then asks who is right, who is wrong?. And, perhaps most importantly by extension, who is to judge?
Director Mark Peckham has led splendid performances from both actors. 2Nd Story's Executive Director, Lynne Collinson, makes “Professor” Steiner a full person. She's bright and delightful sometimes, bitchy and righteous others. You want to tell her to shut up often enough. But then you want hug her, too.
Gabby Sherba plays Lisa with delightful if almost childlike delight at first. But as time passes she edges Lisa into a sharp-eyed, ever so carefully-dressed rising young woman, someone you must admire but aren't sure you want to love.
In the end, “Collected stories” does not make judgment or insight easy for you. These two women are ever complicated, ever sure, and sometimes unsure. They struggle and strangle at the same time. And they also make you think about them, the world, and most difficult perhaps, about yourself.
“Collected Stories,” this play made of strands of all our lives, is one not to miss. I'll leave you with a line spoken by “Professor” Steiner. “There's nothing worse than getting what you want,” she says.
Want to Go?
“Collected Stories” continues at 2nd Story Theater in Warren through February 8th.