Wednesday, 6 December 2000

Collected Stories, MTC, Dec 6, 2000

Collected Stories by Donald Margulies
MTC presents Northside Theatre Company at Fairfax Studio  until 30 September
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

To see two charismatic performers on stage together is theatrical bliss. Ruth Cracknell and Sarah Norris are such a duo in Collected Stories by Donald Margulies.

Margulies' play is also a winner. In a naturalistic style, the US playwright creates a spring-autumn relationship between two women, both fiction writers, both spirited, wilful, sensitive and volatile.

Lisa Morrison (Norris) is a clever but dizzy post-graduate student of Prof. Ruth Steiner, (Cracknell) a short story writer of some renown. During 1993, ia state of anxiety about meeting her heroine, the wide-eyed Lisa visits Ruth's Greenwich Village apartment for a private writing tutorial.
So begins a seen year friendship which begins as a mentor-student relationship but blossoms into a friendship between equals when Lisa publishes her collected stories.

However, love of any kind can be a bumpy ride. Writers are sensitive and sensitised. They also have a nose for a good yarn and are inclined to plunder not only their own lives but those of friends and family for material.

When Lisa uses in her novel, Ruth's confidential anecdotes  about her youthful love affair with the poet, Delmore Schwartz, Ruth sees it as a betrayal, Lisa as a homage.

Margulies captures the heightened experience of the writer and the delicacy of feeling that accompanies the writing process. Even in her ailing winter years, Ruth feels wounded and jealous of her protege. Writers are the repository of human feeling. They give a voice to the world.

Margulies writes brisk, witty dialogue that exposes and expands his two characters. Their burgeoning friendship is fascinating and its impending doom rivetting.

Both performances are potent and delightful.  Cracknell is stately, recalcitrant and lovable as the intellectual mentor. Her presence, as always, is commanding and she brings a fine sense of irony to the character.

Norris sparkles in early scenes as the exuberant, nervous and cat-like Lisa. She gives a convincing portrayal of a young woman maturing over years.

Director, Jennifer Hagan, focuses on the intimacy and intensity of these two women. She sets the action in Wendy Osmond's realistic apartment which is stacked with books. Sarah de Jong's evocative music highlights the relationship and provides a subtle background of the streets of New York.

By Kate Herbert

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