BWW Review: Impactful COLLECTED STORIES Is Cunning, Clever And A Delight To Watch
I sat down inside the 55-seat Dorie Theater at the Complex and started bopping along to the music, Gin Blossom's "Hey Jealousy." I admired the set: It was made up of furniture with warm maroons and browns. It felt homey and inviting. A few other people trickled in while New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" played through the speakers. I thought to myself, "Both of these songs are from the '90s. This is no coincidence." So I opened the program and noticed COLLECTED STORIES took place from 1990 to 1996.
Well done, team.
But as much as I admired the theme being driven into the music both before the curtain rose and during intermission (i.e., Fiona Apple's "Criminal" and Dave Matthews Band's "Satellite"), what I truly admired was Donald Margulies' sardonic, clever writing and how Director Christine Dunford created two relatable yet opposing characters with Susan Fisher and Gretchen Goode.
In brief, COLLECTED STORIES follows the relationship between a renowned short story author/professor (Fisher) and her assistant, a budding fiction writer (Goode). Over a timeframe of six years, the relationship moves from mentor and mentee to best friend and confidant. However, when competitiveness and career highs begin to hinder the relationship and tear at the two friends, the audience was left wondering if they will ever reconcile.
Fisher, who portrayed hostile, sarcastic (yet revered) Ruth Steiner, epitomized my Jewish grandmother. Ruth's dry sense of humor, her brash and outspoken language, and her clever spouts of Yiddish brought back memories only few can do. Fisher truly developed Ruth into somebody you love to hate and hate to love. Ruth, although incredibly crass and harsh, was doting and warm; it just took some time to peel off the layers. And that was exactly how my grandmother was. Bubbe, as we called her, was abrasive, sarcastic and a little biting. But she was also one of the most generous and affectionate people I knew. So to Margulies, Dunford and Fisher, thank you for letting me see a vision of my grandmother for the first time in almost four years.
Goode was equally as fabulous as Fisher, and as an audience member, I enjoyed seeing her develop Lisa Morrison from a nervous graduate student to a published author. From the very start, Lisa longed for Ruth's praise and adoration but was afraid to ask for it. It was clear her vulnerabilities stemmed from deeper issues within the character's psyche, and Goode made sure those emotions were present when she talked about Lisa's upbringing. By the second scene in Act I, we saw a slight change in Lisa when she put her energy into telling Ruth all she wanted was approval. It was the third scene, though, when I noticed a drastic change in Lisa. She no longer wore shoes around Ruth's apartment and addressed Ruth as "Ruth." She sat haphazardly on the furniture and engaged in everyday conversation while casually eating a bowl of grapes. She withstood Ruth's sarcasm and even gave her a taste of her own linguistic medicine.
As I saw Goode take Lisa to an illustrious place in time, I saw the demise of Fisher's Ruth. At the end of Act I, Ruth learned Lisa was going to be published. As the lights dim on the women's embrace, a spotlight shines on Fisher, whose smile turns into a sorrowful frown.
The entirety of Act II was the continuing progression of Lisa's career. Without providing too many spoilers, it was almost as if the life Ruth had and the life within Ruth transferred from her to Lisa. By the end of Act II, a frailer Ruth crossed the stage, but her sarcasm still packed a forceful punch that beckoned she was still a formidable player.
For the first time in a long time, a straight play managed to wrap me into the story and not lose my attention, and I truly enjoyed seeing the evolution of both characters. Over the course of the two-hour show, I saw a bitter woman transform into a genial one who saw her once-pupil as the daughter she never had. I saw a naïve young lady transform into a strong, well-versed woman who saw her mentor as her best friend. The two found solace in each other, and although that may not be present by the end of the show, we as an audience were to decide the truth for ourselves.
Do not miss your chance to catch raw and real talent. COLLECTED STORIES runs now through Nov. 5 at the Dorie Theater at the Complex (6476 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles). Shows start at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $30 and are available at www.showorksentertainment.com/theater.
Oh, and do not forget your hot tea and mandel bread.
Photo Credit: ShoWorks Entertainment