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Collected Stories: A Play Paperback – October 1, 1998
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From the story Lisa had submitted in class for Ruth's critique, Ruth thought Lisa was another student. "You don't particularly look like your story," she says to Lisa. "Almost without exception my students tend to look like their stories." "So am I not a serious-looking person?" asks Lisa. "No, you're not." Thus starts one of the best written scenes I've read about what works and what doesn't in writing. It's the start of a complicated relationship between established writer Ruth and writer-wannabee Lisa. Over the years, Lisa moves from being Ruth's pupil to serving as gofer and then confidante to the aging writer. Ruth unveils a long past affair with the poet Delmore Schwartz, who womanized as much as he drank (which is to say constantly). The moment was the high point in her life. Lisa has become the child Ruth never had and so she tells her everything.
But the relationship changes as all relationships do over time, especially those between mentor and pupil. Ruth advises her not to submit a short story to Grand Street but Lisa submits it anyway. It's accepted, it's her first published story. Lisa's first book of short stories is both praised and savaged by the critics and the two women celebrate because at last Lisa is acknowledged as a talent to watch. Their relationship ends in acrimony. Ruth feels betrayed by Lisa. Lisa doesn't acknowledge what she's done with Ruth's confidences and she doesn't truly care. The ending is strong, filled with feeling, and it rings true.
"The] unifying theme [in my plays] is loss," said playwright Margulies in an interview for PBS. It is the sensitive depiction of loss that ultimately makes Collected Stories so effective and so moving It's about a relationship (mentor to pupil/pupil to mentor) that many of us -no, most of us --have experienced at some point in our lives and it captures the sense of regret we felt when it ended. Collected Stories was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 and Margulies won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for Dinner with Friends in 2000. Uta Hagen played Ruth in the original New York production; Linda Lavin played her when the play was revived in 2010. Great roles attract great actors.
Ruth and Debra's relationship dominates the play. They have a tense, fragile relationship that in the end, has to do with time, although the argument about professional jealousy can be made. Debra has made it as a writer, enjoying both friendship and support from the wise, urbane Ruth who has become set in her ways. But when Debra writes her first novel, she touches a subject that is too personal for Ruth. It is in fact the first love and artistic experience that Ruth had with Delmore Swartz that causes the gap between their friendship. It is interesting to note how easily you can at first sympathize with Debra, whose excuse was that she was honoring Ruth and not parodying her in any way. Nevertheless, I've read this play time and again, and can also understand the heartbreak and betrayal Ruth goes when her stories are taken. That is the point of the play: who owns your life ? Who has the right to tell a story ? It is as much a lesson in great drama as it is in life.
Actors and actresses will benefit immensely from this play. It is well written, makes a good script or screenplay and has every inch of emotional and powerful material, especially concering older colleague versus younger. Both characters are well-rounded, intelligent, mature, emotional and must be electric on stage. Ruth Steiner's character, in my opinion, has the most characterization. She is sophisticated, she is urbane, she is innately Jewish and possesses a great deal of knowledge and in the same light as Debra's young, intense persona, it's clearly great drama. Secondly and finally, this is a great book to read in a drama class or simply in an English course in high school. What teacher would not consider this great modern drama ? I will be only glad to recommend this to my fellow teacher friends.