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Collected Stories -09/24/1999

By Donald Margulies. Cast: Kay Bohannon Holley, Rebecca Palmore. Director: Jarrett Dapier.

The Celebration Company.

Through Oct. 9, 1999. The Station Theater, 223 N. Broadway, Urbana. Box office: 384-4000.


The first question writers are always asked is where they get their ideas. They’ll tell you that they are scavengers and packrats, that ideas are everywhere and that they are always observing, gleaning, storing away for future use.

But just how much of what they take from other people is it permissible to publish?

In recent years, there seem to have been more and more incredibly personal biographies and stories and tell-alls in bookstores, including novels and memoirs about childhood abuse or adult loss or ill-considered liaisons with famous people...

It seems that nothing is private anymore, and everything is fair game.

In “Collected Stories,” Donald Margulies looks at what is fair and what isn’t in the scavenger hunt of a writer’s life, as he provides a thoughtful, articulate, and sometimes painful look at the mentor/protegee relationship, at what sparks literature, at how creative people form the structure and the ethics of their careers.

If this is not a new story -- reminiscent of all kinds of thing, including “A Star is Born” -- it is still a resonant one, especially for a university town like ours, where so many people form this sort of teacher/student relationship and find themselves over the years testing those bonds.

“Collected Stories” features only two characters -- acclaimed short story writer Ruth Steiner, a somewhat crusty New Yorker who has lived in the same apartment for 31 years, and Lisa Morrison, an innocent, enthusiastic newcomer who has been plucked from among Ruth’s students for special tutoring.
Ruth is a member of a rarified literary community, dropping names like Bellow and Saroyan, a woman who has mentored and taught many new writers, a woman with a past where she, too, worshipped at the knee of an older expert. Lisa, on the other hand, is a sponge, eager to soak up everything she can learn from this teacher so that she can “play with the big boys” in the literary world.

Margulies’ play is a bit talky, but why not? He is dealing with writers, after all. These are people who have words for everything, and if his characters like to analyze and spin opinions in the air, to talk rather than to do, well, that seems right for who and where they are.

Keeping all the dialogue afloat falls squarely on the shoulders of the two-member cast, and both Kay Bohannon Holley, as Ruth, and Rebecca Palmore, as Lisa, do an excellent job.

They show a commitment to the material and a willingness to delve into its ambiguities, to make the twists and turns of the script feel important and insightful.

Holley is especially good when she takes on the long, reflective monologue in Act I, and both actresses shine in the final, stark betrayal scene.

Director Jarrett Dapier gives his cast the room to let the story unfold at a somewhat deliberate pace, which creates an interesting mood.

There is no scenic designer credited in the program, but someone has created a very nice apartment set, overshadowed by a huge window that symbolizes the way in which Ruth opens up her life and her secrets to young Lisa.

“Collected Stories,” a nominee for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, is a fine opening for the Celebration Company’s new season and a must-see for members of the University community who will certainly recognize the ins and outs of this mentor vs. protegee story.

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