BWW Reviews: Mad Cow's COLLECTED STORIES Is a Beautifully Complex Character Study

By: Jul. 05, 2013
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More often that not, summertime entertainment revolves around big, flashy, colorful spectacle. From fireworks to parades to theme parks, everything seems to be bigger, louder, and busier during the calendar's hottest months. The movies have explosions, superheroes, and zombies; and theatre usually has extravagant musicals, familiar comedies, and the occasional Shakespeare classic under the stars. The lack of the typical summer bombasity is only one of the many reasons that the beautifully simple "Collected Stories," currently running in Mad Cow Theatre's Black Box (which has surprising amounts of legroom), is a refreshing summer treat. Pultizer Prize-winner Donald Margulies' two-woman play is beautifully written, expertly directed by Denise Gillman, and elegantly acted.

The play centers on the platonic love story between women on opposite ends of their literary careers, and examines all of the intricate emotions found in a long-standing friendship; trust, jealousy, love, and betrayal. The truthful performances by Karel K. Wright (Ruth) and Piper Rae Patterson (Lisa) are alternatingly joyous and touching, and sad and somber. The play opens as Ruth, a successful author and professor, welcomes her adoring graduate student, Lisa, into her Greenwich Village apartment to critique her most recent short story. Over the course of six years in the early 1990's, their relationship transitions from teacher-student to mentor-mentee, and finally to colleagues. Margulies has woven so many subtle threads throughout the script, that each of those transitions takes on added weight in light of the pair's previous conversations, giving the actors opportunities to subtly, but ingeniously, unveil previously unseen layers.

The small Mad Cow Black Box doesn't allow for much construction, however, the sparse, but detailed scenic design by Richard Russell allows the audience to feel as if they are in Ruth's apartment and are a part of the play's central relationship, rather than just witness to it. Both the intricate script, and the intimate space, make it nearly impossible for either of the show's actresses to conceal much. Both Wright and Patterson give nuanced and complex portrayals of incredibly intelligent and creative women. While Wright's Ruth is a somewhat world-weary mentor clinging to days gone by, Patterson's sheepish Lisa matures throughout the course of the show into a confident individual capable of creating an exciting future for herself, in large part due to the advice and friendship of Ruth. While Wright provides much of the play's dramatic power, Patterson's portrayal of Lisa's growth provides the heart of the show.

After their successful first two weekends, Mad Cow announced that it was extending the run of "Collected Stories" through July 21st. I would recommend seeing the show on a Thursday or Sunday, as the actors give an insightful talk-back after the performance on those days. It was delightful to learn that both of the actresses were just as engaging and interesting as the characters they portrayed.

In the interest of full disclosure, this is the first play I have ever seen in Orlando. I live in Atlanta and normally cover theatre for Broadway World Atlanta, but I was thoroughly impressed with Mad Cow, and based on the work on "Collected Stories," I think their exciting 2013-2014 Season might be worth the eight hour drive.

If you are looking for an entertaining alternative to the lines at Disney and Universal or the headache you get after watching the newest 3D-blockbuster, "Collected Stories" could not be a better option. The show runs two hours and fifteen minutes with an intermission. To get tickets to the final two weekends of the brilliant "Collected Stories," call (407) 297-8788 or visit Mad Cow's website.

Photo: Karel K. Wright, Piper Rae Patterson


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