Palm Beach Dramaworks Presents Compelling Production of “Collected Stories”
By Nicholas Palmieri
Sometimes, a complicated situation can cause two people to go from being the closest friends to bitter strangers. Director Paul Stancato and actors Anne-Marie Cusson and Keira Keeley track the inspiring rise and heartbreaking fall of one such relationship in Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of “Collected Stories” by Donald Margulies.
In observing the first meeting between young and insecure student Lisa (Keeley) and her idol, the older established writer Ruth (Cusson), one can intuit all of the eventual personality conflicts — and that’s all thanks to these actors and their director. None of this impending conflict feels telegraphed, but it’s all clearly there, just under the surface, waiting for the eventual eruptions. Even while there’s an uneasy undercurrent, however, the pair portrays the friendship in a way that both makes sense and almost makes you think they could overcome any situation.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of the acting is how the two characters and their interactions evolve and change between scenes, which can fast-forward over months or years. Watching Lisa become more confident and comfortable around Ruth is a treat, especially given her extreme uneasiness at the beginning, and that character evolution makes the final scenes all the more tragic. Likewise, watching Ruth gradually open up and subsequently close herself off as she grows older and sicker will tug at anyone’s heartstrings. It’s all there in the script, yes, but each of the actors embraces their characterizations in a way that fully engulfs the audience in their situations. You feel exactly what the characters do: in the beginning, that they will never get along; in the middle, that they could never part; and at the end, that they may never recover.
This is one of those plays that kept me thinking for days. The topics of friendship, authorship, originality, ethics, and mortality have not aged a day since the play’s first production twenty years ago, and I expect them to stay relevant for as long as human nature and storytelling prevail. Palm Beach Dramaworks has provided the quintessential “theatre to think about” here, as per their tagline.
As always, the technical team at Dramaworks has done a superb job. The set of Ruth’s Greenwich Village apartment looks as authentic as any I’ve seen, with special note to the detailed scene of tree limbs and apartment buildings out the window. The lighting mainly features during scene changes, where the morning-to-night natural-light-through-window effects make what is typically downtime between scenes into mini scenes of their own.
The costumes do a great job of not only representing the overall era and characters, but also the specific time of year of each scene, as well as each character’s place in their journey. Lisa wears a spirited blend of layered garments while clinging onto her bright backpack at the beginning, as it is Fall, yet this equally represents her anxiously excited state. Opposite her stands Ruth in a no-frills professional-looking skirt, to bring out the contrast. Likewise, in a scene that takes place during Summer two years later when the two have already gotten to know one another, they each sport a comfortable, light ensemble. It all fits perfectly, both in terms of physical situations and mental ones.
In all, Palm Beach Dramaworks has another winner here. The play will stick with me personally because of the ethical concerns around writing, but given the superb production values and character portrayals here, as well as the actual play’s recent publication and timeless universal themes, I would highly recommend this to anyone of any age.
“Collected Stories” runs through March 5. Tickets are $66 and can be purchased via phone at (561) 514-4042 or online at palmbeachdramaworks.org.