"Less is more," declares Ruth Steiner, the renowned writer and college professor portrayed in Olney Theatre Center's production of Collected Stories. Ruth is referring to the art of writing but the same can be said for this gem of a show. Presented in OTC's Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, this play does not possess a large cast or theatrical pyrotechnics. Instead, we see just two women playing out a straightforward story, all the while doing it with intelligence and candor.
Collected Storiescomes to us from the deft hand of the Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Donald Margulies. The tale that Mr. Margulies offers is riveting but also a bit familiar. It is the age-old story of mentor and protégée and the fallout that occurs when the latter achieves success. Ruth is in her autumn years when she takes on one of her students as her assistant. Lisa is young and talented. She is also in awe of her famous teacher. It is not long before their relationship transitions from teacher and student to friends. Eventually, this relationship changes even more when the two women become professional contemporaries.
As the plot unfolds, a number of questions arise. How do we let our pasts impact how we live our lives? Are we always truthful with ourselves? And the final question that Lisa must answer - is it ethical to scavenge through another person's life in order to reap personal rewards?
Simply put, Mr. Margulies has written a lovely show. His dialogue is both amusing and poignant. The plotline does become a tad predictable, but that can be forgiven because this play makes you think and will leave to wonder about the issues it raises.
This is not the first time the Washington area has hosted this show. In conjunction with Theatre J, it was previously presented as part of OTC's Potomac Theatre Festival 2000.
A number of Theatre J alums have reprised their roles in this production. OTC Artistic Director, Jim Petosa, returns to direct the play that garnered him a Helen Hayes Award nomination for Outstanding Direction. He has once again proven to be a great interpreter of this piece and is able to bring out little nuances that result in a fuller experience.
The two women who form this cast perform the piece expertly. Once again, Halo Wines takes on the role of the formidable Ruth Steiner. Ms. Wines portrays the writer with a wryness that is delightful and tackles the more serious moments with great skill. Carolyn Pasquantonio also returns as the ambitious Lisa Morrison. Ms. Pasquantonio relates the character's journey from starstruck student to mature professional. Although she is successful at portraying both stages of this young woman's life, Ms. Pasquantonio is most believable when she plays the enamored student.
James Kronzer, another veteran of the original production, has designed an inviting set that works well with the piece and Daniel MacLean Wagner's lighting design is seamless.
Collected Stories is the kind of play that stays with you. It pulls you in and encourages discussion afterward. Don't miss this encore production of this thought provoking play. Collected Stories runs through May 19th.
Olney Theatre Center