September 30, 1999
A play with both wit and heart is a compelling combination, and it's one that playwright Donald Margulies' pulls off in his mostly rewarding "Collected Stories."
"Stories" drew critical praise and a 1997 Pulitzer Prize nomination following it's world première at Costa Mesa's South Coast Repertory. Happily, in director Gilbert Cates' current Los Angeles production at the Geffen Playhouse, the play's intelligence and emotional power remain intact.
"Stories" takes place almost entirely in the book-lined Greenwich Village apartment of Ruth Steiner (played by Linda Lavin). She's sixtyish and a bit prickly -- an accomplished fiction writer who lives alone. Lisa Morrison (Samantha Mathis) is her promising young graduate student, an ambitious writer-in-the-making who comes to Steiner for a tutorial.
We've seen this before, of course -- the dance between an irascible older mentor and the bright-eyed disciple, and so we know from the outset that these two impassioned artists -- one dominant and aging, the other on the rise -- will inevitably clash as their relationship deepens and changes.
What makes this familiar setup fresh and involving is Margulies' wise, funny, wry dialogue and Lavin's strong performance. While "Stories" is principally concerned with how artistic passions can propel and destroy intimate relationships, the play is truly about a number of subjects, both large and small, which Margulies has great fun exploring: the writer's morally iffy creative need to cannibalize friends' lives for material, the power of regret, even the reasons behind our gossip-obsessed pop culture. All of it is discussed with zip and arch intelligence.