@ The Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main St.
 

Collected Stories

by David Margulies, directed by Ceil Herman

  • L to R: Lisa (played by Christa Popovich) and Professor Steiner (played by Cindy Murrell)
  • L to R: Professor Steiner (played by Cindy Murrell) and Lisa (played by Christa Popovich)
  • L to R: Professor Steiner (played by Cindy Murrell) and Lisa (played by Christa Popovich)
  • L to R: Professor Steiner (played by Cindy Murrell) and Lisa (played by Christa Popovich)

Apr 26-May 05, 2002

FRI APR 26, MAY 3 | 8:00 PM
SAT APR 27, MAY 4 | 8:00 PM
SUN APR 28, MAY 5 | 2:30 PM
THUR MAY 2 | 7:00 PM

Description

Credits

Director

Reviews

'Collected Stories:' A dazzling gift wrapped in a small package
- ByJim Early, Sun News [Friday, Apr 26, 2002 C-4]

The smartest, classiest entertainment opportunity in Las Cruces for the next two weeks will not be found on a movie screen. It can be found, instead, inside a little black box.

The Black Box Theatre, that is, where the No Strings Theatre Company presents "Collected Stories," a sublimely wise and probing play about a writing professor and her student struggling to maintain a friendship over the years.

Under the fine directing of Ceil Herman, also the artistic director of No Strings, "Collected Stories" invites audiences all the way into this parlor room drama. In fact, the intimate space provided by the Black Box Theatre places audiences right at the table with the play's only characters, Ruth Steiner (Cindy Murrell) and Lisa Morrison (Christa Popovich).

And one could not ask for finer company than these two funny and fascinating women. Childless and well established as an intellectual writer, Ruth has now taken to choosing one or two promising writing students to "parent." Yet when she chooses Lisa Morrison, Ruth has no way of anticipating how significant their relationship will become. Lisa begins as a bundle of unformed energized talent waiting to find shape.

Ruth, clearly a great teacher, quite gently molds Lisa's talent until the young writer begins to find her own way.

There is a reason Shakespeare never said "All's well that begins well." Despite their promising start, Ruth and Lisa struggle mightily in their friendship as both women undergo changes. Yet, because each women is clearly invested in this relationship right from the beginning, neither wishes to let go. The beauty of the play, expertly crafted by award-winning playwright Donald Margulies, is how it captures the knotty complexity of a relationship worth fighting for.

If I simply sum up the play, I will be doing it a great injustice, because "Collected Stories," as the title implies, is more than the sum of its parts. I could say that the play is a power struggle between an older and younger woman, and I would be right. But I would be wrong, too, because the play is also about two women who share love and respect. This is not David Mamet. The two women do not want to destroy one another with their words, yet sometimes they do exactly that.

Two-character dramas place a great responsibility on the actors chosen to bear it. In this case, Cindy Murrell and Christa Popovich carry the play with an ease that belies the work they must have put into preparing for this difficult challenge. I can offer no better praise than to say that no matter how many times I see this play, I will still see Murrell and Popovich as Ruth and Lisa. A university English teacher herself, Murrell brings a graceful, ironic ease to her character. Long past her youthful self-doubts, Ruth gently struggles with bigger issues now. Murrell expertly portrays Ruth as a woman proud of what she has accomplished as writer yet haunted by regrets over opportunities lost.

Popovich is a force, as she needs to be, in this play. If Murrell's performance is the anchor, Popovich's is the speedboat trying to find its way to shore. Her character undergoes the most changes, catalyzing concurrent changes in Ruth and the friendship as a whole. Watching Popovich expertly negotiate her character through a remarkable transformation into maturity is simply a delight.

As the play progresses, Popovich shapes all the girlish impulses of the young Lisa into a more focused, controlled, mature version of the character. The transformation is utterly convincing.

Clearly, the little black box on the downtown mall is bursting with talent right now. "Collected Stories" is theatre in its most satisfying form. Literate yet perfectly accessible, "Collected Stories" invites you to take a seat at Ruth's table. I suggest you accept this gracious invitation.

Performance dates are today April 26 through May 5 at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N Downtown Mall. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m., Thursdays at 7 p.m.; this Sunday April 28 and a final matinee at 2:30 p.m. May 5. Tickets are $7 regular, $6 students and seniors over 65 and all seats Thursdays are $5. For reservations call 523-1223 or online

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