Where is an author allowed to draw inspiration for his story? Are all experiences fair game, or are others’ experiences outside that realm? Ensemble Theatre Company pits two writers against each other over these questions in its latest production, “Collected Stories,” written by Yale professor and playwright David Marguiles.
Set in a book-strewn apartment in Greenwich Village, New York City, the established short-story writer Ruth Steiner (Josette Di Carlo) takes in a new student protŽgŽ with great promise. The bright-eyed Lisa (Meg Brogan) takes on the exasperating task of being Ruth’s assistant in exchange for a few dollars and the chance to study under a great writer. The two women grow together, developing stories about their own lives and putting them down on paper as a “release from the tension” that the stories bring. Following Ruth and Lisa over a period of six years, the audience is privy to the many secrets and stories shared between the two writers as they become friends. Over this time, Ruth becomes ill, and Lisa publishes her first novel, which is based in part on stories from Ruth’s past that she had told Lisa. The battle begins over whether Lisa’s novel is a tribute to an inspiring mentor or story pillaged from her relationship with Ruth. Both women make compelling arguments defending themselves, yet it is ultimately up to the audience to decide what the parameters are, if any, of dramatic license.
Both Di Carlo and Brogan perform beautifully throughout the play. Brogan especially grows through the six-year length from the ditzy-sounding, yet intelligent graduate student, to the mature, confident writer with true believability. Di Carlo masters the blend of harsh wit crafted over a hard lifetime with the compassion of a mentor and fellow writer. All this changes in the final scene when compassion leaves and the feelings of abandonment, betrayal and jealousy are left reigning in their place.
“Collected Stories” creatively captures the curious relationship between teacher and student. It questions what happens when the student outshines the teacher and the subsequent feelings of betrayal and jealousy that may result, all the while humorously exploring the budding relationship between two women fighting for recognition in a man’s profession.
“Collected Stories” runs through May 20. Performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Alhecama Theatre by Ensemble Theatre Company. $20 to $30 general. For tickets and information, call 962-8606.