One of the greatest thrills about seeing live theater is to experience actors exploring their craft at such a high level. Collected Stories by Donald Margulies at Act II Playhouse was such an experience. Directed by Jessica Bedford with a pace both patient and energized, Collected Stories is a two-person acting challenge that the performers at Act II handle with incredible skill.
Ruth Steiner is an accomplished short story writer who has settled into the peak of her career as a teacher and mentor for young, eager college writers. Lisa Morrison is a young college writer who worships Ruth and is so delighted to be in her seminar. She convinces Ruth to hire her as her personal assistant, and they begin a six-year relationship which sees Lisa grow from an enthusiastic young student to the author a well-received collection of short stories. After her initial success, she pens a novel based on Ruth’s early affair with poet Delmore Schwartz. In its final moments, the play examines the dilemma of using the facts of another’s life as fair game for your creative development. The structure of the play is interesting. It is broken into five scenes which are in themselves short stories.
The magic here is the performers. As Lisa, Sarah Paton brings unbridled energy. She embraces the development of her character and creates a credible pattern of growth in her character. As Ruth, Susan Riley Stevens demonstrates why she is one of the areas finest actresses. Acting students should be required to watch the nuance and subtlety of her craft. In each scene she brings a physicality that is wonderful to watch. It is however the interplay of these two fine actresses that makes this performance so memorable.
Director Bedford receives great help from her staff. Meghan Jones’ set design matches the subtlety of the performers. It is unassuming, but by being so it works so well. James Leitner who is a master at lighting this unique space complements the set, and Daniel Ison’s sound and Janus Stefanowicz’s costumes all contribute to this unified production.
Collected Stories runs until November 18th in this intimate space. For information and tickets call 215.654.0200 or contact the website www.act2.org.