The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Review
Collected Stories

We're all rummagers. All writers are. Rummagers at a tag sale. Picking through the neighbors' discards for material, whatever we can get our hands on. Shamelessly. Why stop at our own journals?
— Ruth

It's not about envy-- well, maybe it is about envy. But it's not professional jealousy. . .I'm jealous that you have all of life ahead of you. . .
Linda Lavin
Linda Lavin
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
This is the fourth time I've seen Collected Stories, Donald Margulies' 1998 bookish variation of the ever popular All About Eve story. The inspirational wellspring was a then much in the news legal squabble involving poet Stephen Spender and David Leavitt. Spender accused Leavitt of poaching from his memoir and succeeded in getting the publishers to withdraw Leavitt's book.— This gave the play a nice torn from the literary gossip headlines aura, even though the poaching in Collected Stories involves the use of an experience related during a conversation but never written down or published.

Though the Spender-Leavitt scandal was soon submerged by the never ending stream of new gossipy tidbits, Collected Stories had enough strings to its bow to be popular on the revival circuit. For one thing, with just two characters and a single set, it's economical to produce; perhaps even more importantly, the role of Ruth Steiner offers a big bone to chew on for an older actress, and that of the Eve-like Lisa is a nice chance to shine for a younger actress.

The late, great Uta Hagen, who I first saw doing this in the showcase theater attached to the HB Studio acting school, was a magnificent Ruth Steiner. Maria Tucci was also quite good. The third production I saw was during Shakespeare & Company's first season in its handsome new Founders' Theater and company regular Annette Miller managed to make the play worth seeing yet again and one of the funniest line, " Life's too short for the New Yorker," still tickled the funny bone.

But even during its initial bloom, Collected Stories was Off-Broadway, so the production now at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre and starring Linda Lavin, is its Broadway premiere. Lavin, an expert at portraying Jewish women with sardonic wit and enviably perfect timing, is clearly the reason for this belated Broadway debut. But even with Lavin as a potentially worthy successor to her predecessors, I'll admit to an "oh, not again" feeling at the prospect of of yet another encounter with Ruth Steiner and the protege who both loves and betrays her. Still, being fond of the play I was prepared to like it again.

Lavin does indeed bring out all the emotional shades of this complicated woman — the wry humor, the strong opinions, as well the neediness of a woman who's lived a solitary life except for her teaching. Though Lavin dominates the play, Sarah Paulson holds her own as the student who becomes as important to her teacher as the teacher is to her.

The problem with this production is that it comes so soon after Margulies's excellent new play, Time Stands Still (review), opened in this same venue earlier this season. It's the timeliness and freshness of that play that exposes and actually emphasize the aging infrastructure of Collected Stories. That's not to say that it's a bad play. It was, after all, a Pulitzer runner up. Though somewhat predictable and excessively talky, it is also filled to the brim with ideas and Margulies' always strong dialogue to insure an articulate theater experience.

At the crux of the play's six scenes--played out over as many years-- is the relationship between a somewhat curmudgeonly academic who's also a renowned short story writer, and Lisa Morrison, an ambitious as yet unpublished writer. Not surprisingly, the disciple not only surpasses the mentor's success but does so spectacularly. Because her rise from uncertain student to cool literary star stems from a novel based on a romantic interlude in the teacher's life, we quickly see that Collected Stories is also a microscope for examining honor and betrayal, the creative process, as well as aging and waning power (As the play progresses Ruth is clearly seriously ill, though no specific illness is mentioned).

MTC's 1997 Off-Broadway production (the one starring Maria Tucci) not only prompted comparisons to All About Eve but to another play that opened around the same time: Wendy Wassertein's American Daughter, in which a character named Quincy Quince was the now generation scavenger of Wasserstein's own generation's feminist ideals. (review).

The playwright has trimmed and tightened the script so that it now runs about 15 minutes shorter than originally. However, there are no major changes in the dialogue (at least none that are particularly noticeable). Consequently, director Lynn Meadow was wise not to update the staging. There's no mention of cell phones — in fact Ruth still stubbornly refuses to answer the telephone she does have. The announcements of the time for each scene are projected to the accompaniment of the click-click-click of an old-fashioned typewriter. The discussion about Woody Allen and his relationship with his adopted daughter (who's now been his wife for for a dozen years) has become as dated as the Spender-Leavitt legal battle, but it would have required a major rewrite to have something else pave the way for Lisa to make the connection between that romance and her teacher's affair with the poet Delmore Schwartz.

Like everything at MTC's beautiful Broadway venue, this Collected Stories is handsomely staged. Santo Loquasto has recreated an old-fashioned Village apartment, with its chief decorative elements e the books that are Ruth Steiner's life. Though the book shelves are a bit too neat and untouched looking, the windows are authentically opaque with city grime. Jane Greenwood's costumes, Natasha Katz's lighting and Obadiah Eaves soundscape are all impeccable.

Lavin and Paulson interact well. The scene in which Lisa's announcement that she's found a publisher for her short story on her own that reveals the first signs of cracks in the women's relationship is still poignant. The final confrontation remains fierce and sad.

If there's ever a full fledged Margulies Festival, Collected Stories, like Sight Unseen, Dinner With Friends and Brooklyn Boy should certainly be part of it. But I can't help wishing that instead of mounting it in a major Broadway theater in the same season as the playwright's newer and more powerful Time Stands Still, that this time slot would have been given to an up and coming playwright, a writer who might be encouraged to develop a body of durable works as Donald Margulies has.

April 29, 2010 Postscript: I've received several e-mails this morning as to whether this isn't actually Linda Lavin's second outing as Ruth Steiner, the original being on the small screen The answer is yes. She did it for PBS TV with Samantha Mathiss as Lisa. Donald Margulies did the screenplay I never saw that version but you can see a picture of Lavin in the film as well as read a lot of other interesting details here.
Collected Stories by Donald Margulies
Directed by Lynne Meadow
Cast: Linda Lavin (Ruth Steiner), Sarah Paulson (Lisa Morrison)
Scenic Design: Santo Loquasto
Costumes; Jane Greenwood
Lighting: Natasha Katz
Original Music and Sound: Obadiah Eaves
Stage Manager: Laurie Goldfeder
Wigs: Paul Huntley
Running Time: 2 hours including one intermission
Manhattan Theater Club at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 261 West 47th Street
From 4/09/10; opening 4/28/10; closing 6//13/10
Tuesday @7pm;Wednesday - Saturday @8pm, Saturday and Sunday @2pm Sunday @7pm; after 5/04, Tuesday @7pm; Wednesday - Saturday @8pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday @2pm
Tickets: Pricing: $57 - $97
Reviewed by Elyse sommer at 4/24 press Preview
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Collected Stories
  • I disagree with the review of Collected Stories
  • The review made me eager to see Collected Stories
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

You can also contact us at Curtainup at Facebook , Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Playbill Broadway Yearbook


Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from