An off-the-record conversation between an established author and writing professor and her graduate student assistant becomes the basis for an increasingly adversarial examination of professional ethics, artistic license, the right to privacy, and personal betrayal in Donald Margulies’ COLLECTED STORIES. Isis Productions’ presentation of the dramatic two-hander is intense and thought-provoking, with performances that expose the conflicting morals of two generations of well-educated and accomplished women.
Under Neill Hartley’s sharp direction, the drama gradually builds to a crescendo as the characters’ interactions change from an awkward first meeting, to the growth of their friendship and collegiality, to a final devastating face-off. Kirsten Quinn skillfully captures the evolution and nuances of Lisa Morrison, the aspiring young writer who fails, in her ambition, to comprehend that a secret told to her in confidence by her mentor is not fair game for publication—or does she? Renee Richman-Weisband portrays the anger, hurt, and vulnerability of the feisty Ruth Steiner, who, over the six years of their developing relationship, comes to regard her prized disciple as the daughter she never had, and deeply resents the appropriation of her life’s story and cultural heritage for Lisa’s thinly fictionalized retelling.
Interesting discussions about the craft of writing precede the climactic conflict, filled with fervent advice from Ruth that she later comes to regret when Lisa follows it. Was she sending her student mixed messages, or does it go without saying that some things are private and never intended for public consumption? COLLECTED STORIES is an intelligent examination of the personal ramifications and professional fallout that occur when trust is violated and the proverbial “what happens in Vegas” doesn’t stay in Vegas. But it also considers the changing values and balance of power from master to protégée that comes inevitably with the emergence of a new generation and the decline of the elder—or does it? The riveting play and compelling performances smartly capture the ambiguities of our personalities and exchanges, and costumes by Bobby Fabulous visually trace and subtly underscore the shifts in status of these two complex three-dimensional women. [Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 5, 825 Walnut Street] March 5-29, 2015; isisperforms.com.