Cultural Foundation production a story well told

| 02/11/2016
CNS Local Life

Rita Estevanovich (left) and Marcia Muttoo in a scene from Collected Stories

(CNS Local Life): Compelling and provocative are merely a few words to describe the Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s adaptation of American writer Donald Margulies’ play Collected Stories on at the Harquail Studio Theatre. Set in 1990s New York City, the play follows Ruth Steiner, a university professor and respected short story writer, as she opens up her home and her life to her student and eventual protégé, Lisa Morrison, who is desperate for recognition as a writer.

We watch as, over the course of six years, the distance between them, both professionally and personally, gets smaller. Lisa, the insecure people-pleaser who is estranged from her family, becomes comfortable and more confident being around Ruth who she begins to see as a mother figure. Ruth feels like an accomplished mother for having helped Lisa, her surrogate daughter, come so far. Despite butting heads at times, the appreciation and love both women have for each other was quite evident by the end of the first act.

However, this was the beginning of the end for Ruth and Lisa. When Lisa chooses to write her first novel by appropriating her mentor’s precious memory of an affair with a famous poet, Ruth feels incredibly betrayed. With Ruth being a writer and having committed the act of taking other’s stories to write her own books, Lisa felt there would be no “moral dilemma” using that particular story. The use of someone else’s stories to create other stories begs the question of whose story is it anyway. What is considered “up for grabs” in the creative process and what isn’t? Where do we draw the line?

Director and designer Henry Muttoo fleshed out that discourse marvellously with this adaptation. The portrayal of the characters was phenomenal. Rita Estevanovich completely encapsulated Lisa, the people-pleaser with self-esteem issues, and conveyed her character development incredibly well.

Marcia Muttoo truly brought the cranky, sarcastic but deeply vulnerable Ruth to life, and with so much energy. Each mood swing Ruth would have and each feeling Lisa had of wanting to please her “master” was brilliantly acted out by Estevanovich and Muttoo. There was frequent use of profanity in the script of the play and neither actress hesitated to use the language, which I felt gave the dialogue a greater sense of realism.

The intimate stage of the Harquail Studio Theatre perfectly suited the set design of Ruth’s cozy apartment full of organised chaos. It took voyeurism to another level. The line between spectator and character was eerily but wonderfully blurred. It was as if you were in the very same room as them, able to feel each emotion.

The soundtrack was the same soothing jazzy score used in the original play and film adaptation. The costumes matched the era and feel of each character with Ruth the sophisticated, seasoned artist and Lisa the frantic, innocent young woman.

The Harquail is once more the home of an intriguing and successful production with the two actresses warmly acknowledged by loud applause and cheers from the small audience at the end of the intimate show. The final performances of the play take place 4-6 November, at 8pm Friday and Saturday, and 6pm on Sunday.

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Category: Drama, Performing Arts

Comments (1)

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  1. Henry Muttoo says:

    Dear Rae,
    Thank you you seeing the work and for your review. For better or worse, Cayman needs more reviewers of creative works. Even when they are not as positive as yours, the artist/s can learn something to inform their journey.