Carol Dines & Lenae McKee Price in Collected Stories.
Photo-The Bard’s Town
By Donald Margulies
Directed by Andy Epstein
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2014, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
The thing about the small, curtain less theaters in the Louisville area, theaters like The MeX, Walden, or the Bard’s Town (just to name examples), is you get a sense of the show you’re about to see as soon as you walk in. The set is right there in front of you, there will be no big reveal when the curtain opens; the scenery is visible in all its glory or in all its shortcomings, and that’s usually a good indicator of the quality of the production you’re about to take in.
The latest production at The Bard’s Town, Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories, is a prime example. When I entered the upstairs performance space, the realistic, embracing set as designed by the BT’s artistic director, Doug Schutte, and the play’s director, Andy Epstein, immediately took me in. The design, intended to be the living room in an aging writer’s apartment, immediately evoked a sense of the fierce intelligence of whoever lived there, from the cluttered table full of papers and documents, to the engaging paintings hanging on the walls. I was intrigued before the show even started.
The 1996 play, which has had many high-profile performances on- and off-Broadway over the years (and featuring, at various times, such solid actresses as Debra Messing, Linda Lavin, Samantha Mathis, Sarah Paulsen, Helen Mirren, and even the legendary Uta Hagen) tells the bittersweet story of the rise and fall of a powerful friendship. Successful and respected fiction author and writing teacher Ruth Steiner is impressed with a short story written by her student Lisa Morrison. Ruth decides to give special attention to Lisa to help her achieve her potential, resulting in a teacher/student relationship that develops into a deep friendship over the next six years. But that friendship is tested when Lisa uses elements of Ruth’s life story in her first novel, causing a rift that their fragile relationship may not be able to withstand.
If it sounds like I’m spoiling the story with the above description, I don’t think I am. The real power of the piece is not seeing where the story is going; it’s watching the relationship between these two women ignite and then gain power, then seeing it ebb and flow over time. It’s really an engrossing bit of writing on the part of Margulies, and made tangible by Epstein’s direction and two powerhouse performances by the local actresses bringing the story to life.
As Ruth, Carol Dines creates a strong and proud character that’s used to bulldozing her way through life without showing any outward sign of the damage accumulating within; she’s a force of nature with a fragile dignity but believably starts to show the cracks in her veneer as the story progresses. And as Lisa, Lenaie McKee Price skillfully traverses her character’s arc from mousy, rather bubble headed student to strong, successful novelist in a performance that never seems forced.
It’s a powerful story, skillfully done. The script does have a few moments that tend to lag, and the outcome, as noted earlier, is a bit predictable, but it is rewarding on a technical and intellectual level. Not a lot of productions these days can make that claim.
Featuring Carol Dines and Lenae McKee Price.
July 24-27, July 31, Aug 1-3
(all at 7:30 PM)
Tickets $15 ($12 for students and seniors) in advance
$17/15 at the door.
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205