by Donald Margulies
May 10 -
June 1, 2002
Directed by Ron Martin
"Rummagers at a tag sale. All writers are. Picking through the neighbors' discards for material, whatever we can get our hands on. Shamelessly."
With those words Ruth Steiner intends to comfort a worried young writer and friend, but her words come back to bite her in Donald
Margulies' provocative comedy-drama
The 1997 Pulitzer Prize finalist and one of "The Year's Best" according to Clive Barnes of the New York Post, "Collected Stories" is told in six scenes and spans six years in the Greenwich Village apartment of Ruth Steiner, a renowned Jewish writer and teacher. Young graduate student Lisa Morrison arrives for her first tutorial as a gawky, gushing hero worshiper. When Ruth quips, "I had someone darker in mind," she doesn't realize the foreshadowing in her own life story, but the audience should be put on alert. The sharp-tongued Ruth takes Lisa under her wing, and their relationship evolves from professor-pupil to friendship, with sparks flying all along the way. By the end of Act One, they have become as close as mother and daughter.
As Act Two begins, the ambitious Lisa has had a collection of short stories published and critics hail her as "a keen and clever chronicler of the new lost generation." Then why is Lisa so worried and miserable? Ruth can relate: "There's nothing worse than getting what you wanted." Having used the sex, drugs and bulimia of her suburban life as literary fodder, Lisa is terrified that she'll be a one-book wonder.
She wants "to come up with something bigger than myself." What Lisa uses as fodder for her next book seems the ultimate betrayal to Ruth. Now rivals, the play climaxes with a ferocious clash between the two women.
Playwright Donald Margulies is himself a Jewish writer, a teacher at Yale and winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for his play "Dinner With Friends." However, he has a degree in visual art and worked for years as a graphic designer. Encouragement from an established writer led Margulies to pursue his writing, and planted one of the seeds for "Collected Stories." Other inspiration for the play came from a real-life controversy between the two writers David Leavitt and Steven Spender. Leavitt's novel "When England Sleeps" drew on a chapter in Spender's memoirs. Spender sued for plagiarism and succeeded in forcing Leavitt to edit his novel. Margulies has said, "I wanted to dramatize the theme of betrayal."
Margulies sprinkles literary authenticity throughout the play with references to publications such as The New Yorker, Esquire and Publisher's Weekly, and New York writers such as E. L. Doctorow, Woody Allen and Delmore Schwartz.