Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

True Stories

May 26, 2009

Melanie Lora and Kandis Chappell in Collected Stories
Photo: Henry DiRocco/SCR 2009

South Coast Repertory has had a bit of an “old home” season this spring with return engagements from a couple of its long time friends. The theater recently staged the latest comedy from Richard Greenberg, Our Mother’s Brief Affair, and they are now in the midst of a revival of Donald Margulies' Collected Stories, a work that received its world premiere in Orange County. SCR has marked this return with a solid and highly professional production featuring a performance from Kandis Chappell who originated the role of Ruth and returns to tear up the stage. Ruth’s protégée, Lisa, is played by an equally polished Melanie Lora who is believable in her ingénue to literary legend trajectory. Their relationship is supposed to eventually produce some intellectual sparks in Margulies' world, and it does so, which is largely to the credit of these two fine actors.

What’s sad is that this corner of Margulies’ stage world is a little dull. Collected Stories mines many of the playwright’s favorite themes. Middle class adults struggle with the ethical problems inherent in their work and their development as artists. Hearts are broken. But the play is slow to boil and despite the very interesting character study, it often seems hesitant to move in any of the very predictable avenues it could follow. It’s more or less a very watered down All About Eve. Ruth, the crotchety, but esteemed New York professor with requisite literary career takes graduate student Lisa under her wing. Slowly, but surely they become friends and Ruth begins helping out with Lisa’s burgeoning career. Just as things begin taking off for the younger woman, the older one begins facing health problems and other issues that come with age. Finally, Lisa at a artistic crossroads, pilfers her mentor’s own personal history for material, justifying her actions with the very advice drummed into her head by Ruth in the first place. It’s very tidy, but sadly uninteresting. You know the catfight is coming from 20 minutes in. The depressing part is that it takes so long to come around in the two-hour piece that you begin to stop caring about whether or not you should be offended by the idea that any play with two female characters must feature one in the first place. Collected Stories runs through June 14th, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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