Linda Lavin reads a thin tale well for Manhattan Theatre Club.
Mon May 3 2010
WRITE AWAY Lavin, left, gives literary advice to Paulson.
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
In 1998, the iconic Uta Hagen made one of her final stage appearances at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Donald Margulies’s Collected Stories, playing a vexatious middle-aged Jewish short-story writer named Ruth Steiner. Magnetic though Hagen was, she was driving the wrong vehicle. (For one thing, she was nearly 80 years old and looked it, which confused her key back story about losing her innocence to the dissolute poet Delmore Schwartz as a young woman 35 years earlier.) Linda Lavin, who stars in Manhattan Theatre Club’s current revival of the play, is much better suited to the wheel; her warm intelligence and superb comic timing provide an ideal counterbalance to the character’s persnickety high-mindedness. But at the Lortel, at least, the play seemed properly scaled. It’s a well-crafted but slim piece of work, and on Broadway—where it follows on the heels of Margulies’s superior Time Stands Still—it seems smaller still.
The plot tracks several years in the course of Ruth’s mentorship of a worshipful younger writer, Lisa (Paulson), who eventually commits what Ruth sees as a ruthless literary betrayal. While the play raises some pertinent questions about the intersections of life and art, at heart it’s a cozy, bookish West Village version of All About Eve. But the women are unevenly matched: The excerpts that Margulies gives us of Lisa’s supposedly promising work are unimpressive, and Paulson is not a sharp enough foil for the dramatic fencing required. Lavin deserves to be seen, but might be better appreciated elsewhere. Is it perverse to hope for an Off Broadway transfer?
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