Co-Directed by Mary Ann Thebus & Jessica Thebus
Produced by American Blues Theater
At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
Thoughtful take on mentor-protege relationship
Playwright Donald Margulies has much experience teaching at Yale University. His 1997 Collected Stories is a gem of a two-hander that give a seldom mentioned twist to the standard mentor-protege format. Here Margulies finds Ruth Steiner (Carmen Rpman), a celebrated New York author with a dry wit and a fine writing resume who live alone while teaching writing at a major university. Her place, nice book-lined set designed by Sarah E. Ross, is where she hosts one-on-ones with her students. When the vivacious and highly motivated aspiring student writer, Lisa Morrison (Gwendolyn Whiteside) arrives for a meeting, Lisa so impresses Ruth that she hires Lisa as her personal assistant.
We learn much about the essence of fine writing as Ruth unleashes pearls of wisdom, refined writing techniques as well as writing philosophy that demands that a writer “takes from all sources” to produce worthy stories. Much of Collected Stories consists of Ruth telling her life story including her 1950’s poet days in Greenwich Village where she hung out with Beat writers like Delmore Schwartz. Lisa is like a sponge as she takes Ruth’s dictates to heart.
Over the next six years, the two move into a semi-mother-daughter relationship of trust and mutual respect. Lisa is growing as a person and as a writer with the publication of her collection of short stories. Ruth is both impressed and happy that Lisa has learned. Ruth also feels proud that she helped Lisa. But their relationship becomes blurred when Lisa’s novel is read by Ruth. She feels cheated and betrayed by Lisa’s use of Ruth’s life story to fuel her novel. She is furious yet Lisa’s novel isn’t actually Ruth’s story but a fictionalized story with hints from those Beatnik days.
The final scenes offer emotional arguments from both as the changing roles in the mentor-protege relationship emerge. Often when the protege learns too well, the mentor either feels useless and not needed anymore. That can be difficult for both. In Collected Stories, Margulies layers trust, loyalty, and mutual need into a complex web of circumstances. Is Ruth paranoid or is Lisa an opportunist? And what if a protege takes literally the advise from the mentor and acts upon that advise, is she exploiting and betraying the mentor? See this play and judge for yourself.
The mother and daughter team of Mary Ann Thebus and daughter Jessica Thebus put their subtle touches on this marvelous drama. Carmen Roman plays Ruth with caustic wit and subdued nuances while Gwendolyn Whiteside presents Lisa with bouncy energy and determination. You’d be hard pressed to find a finer acted play that Collected Stories! This is a smart, intelligent work with about two unique characters each with strong wills and plausible motivations. The last scene will give you much to thing about. We relate to both characters as we see how the layers of a teacher-student relationship can easily become blurred when the agenda is conflicted. Since many of us have been in some sort of mentor-protege relationship in our lives, Collected Stories is easy to relate to. See this show as it puts a new twist on that dynamic.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: April 27, 2013
For more info checkout the Collected Stories page at theatreinchicago.com
At Victroy Gardned Biograph Theatre (upstairs), 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, www.americanbluestheater.com, tickets $10 – $49, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2:30pm, Saturday matinees on May 11 & 18 at 5pm, running time is 2 hours, 5 minutes with intermission, through May 19, 2013