Theater Review: ‘Collected Stories’ — the interpretation of a writer’s dilemma

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Two of the outstanding actresses of the entire region have given us the gripping tale of the ownership of one’s story. Linda Abronski is the teacher, and Lydia Berger, her student in Artists’ Ensemble’s production of Collected Stories. From the opening scene, their relationship evolves until the crisis of the ownership of memories almost shatters them both.

Ruth (Linda Abronski), a lifelong writer and teacher, finds her new student, Lisa (Lydia Berger), a challenging and often puzzling addition to her life. Berger’s portrayal of the young woman is exactly authentic, from her slightly shabby clothes to her sometimes babbling conversation. Abronski is the patient adult, and so the relationship begins.

Playwright Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner with Friends launched Artists’ Ensemble’s first season in 2004, and his work continues to inspire the company. His ability to present the relationships and conflicts that we all face has given us a rich theater experience. The company has chosen another of his works, Brooklyn Boy, as a part of their next season.

Collected Stories keeps us enthralled for the entire performance. The ability of Abronski and Berger to achieve such a stellar accomplishment will be long remembered. As the play progresses, we discover much of Lisa’s writing is based on her own life experiences. A dysfunctional family provides her with all she needs to impress Ruth and to become published.

This is when controversy arises. Her quandary — on what can she base her new work? It is then that we find Ruth’s memories are vital to the continuation of the younger woman’s career. In the final scenes, the aging Ruth becomes the epitome of one betrayed. Her treasured past has been violated, and she cannot forgive Lisa, whose newly-published work reveals every detail of Ruth’s youth.

The audience is left to ponder: Who is right? Where does privacy begin, and exactly what is in the public domain? The current media is rife with these questions, and as the politics of the moment continue to impact us, we may well ask ourselves the same questions.

Every aspect of Collected Stories is completely professional. The depiction of Ruth’s New York apartment by Noel Rennerfeldt is excellent. Costume designer Jan Bacino continues her career with the exact costumes that enhance the character’s personae, Richard Raether’s direction is evident in every scene, and working with Abronski and Berger was obviously a joy.

Much is coming up in the near future. The benefit April 27, It’s a Mad World draws from the 1960s. Gee’s Bend, the final production of the season, opens May 11. For more details, call (815) 904-2277 or purchase tickets online at I can’t say enough about Collected Stories. Do see it before closing April 1.

From the March 21-27, 2012, issue

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