COLLECTED STORIES by Donald Margulies, directed by Sasha Wentges (Mea Culpa Productions). At Tarragon Theatre Extra Space (30 Bridgman). To June 3. $10-$32. 416-531-1827, www.totix.ca. See Continuing, page 183. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Most plays and films about the writing life are either grossly romanticized or otherwise inaccurate, and most authors would rather give themselves a lobotomy than witness the dramatization of a colleague's hell.
So, full disclosure: it was with much trepidation that this author and reviewer approached Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies 's Collected Stories , about two writers.
Lisa Morrison ( Erin MacKinnon ) attains success at the expense of her loving if eternally crusty mentor, Ruth Steiner ( Cayle Chernin ). The story is told over a six-year period from 1990 to 1996. At the centre of the women's union is an unruly mess of intense love and toxic jealousy that sustains the tension of the two-hander for two hours.
The script is witty and intelligent, although occasionally it feels a little like a highbrow sitcom (think Frasier with ladies).
Yet despite dialogue that's almost too quippy and clever, MacKinnon and Chernin play off each other in a natural way.
MacKinnon's portrayal of Lisa's evolution from flaky grad student to assured young author is deep, believable and well paced. Chernin as the kvetching Steiner at times defaults to cronishness, but for the most part her bitchy attitude hits exactly the right notes.
What's most interesting about Collected Stories is the writerly questions the script explores: Are writers allowed to cannibalize every aspect of their lives or are some experiences sacred? How far can a scribe go for the sake of narrative? Where is the line between fact and fiction?
In a world in which Oprah's crucifixion of James Frey passes for literary debate, it's refreshing to see such a true and impassioned portrayal of writers, as well as the real questions that plague them.