If you are looking for an emotionally powerful, intellectually stimulating evening at the theater, Little Theatre of the Rockies’ production of Donald Margulies’ brilliant play “Collected Stories” should definitely be on your radar.
This is not a play everyone has heard of, although it has had stints twice off-Broadway and one on. It is also not an easy play to categorize. While it has some humor, to call it a comedy would sell the story short. It might be best to refer to it as a dual character study.
“Collected Stories” is the tale of two women: an older, snarky successful writer and a young, bright-eyed Princeton graduate looking to find her way in the world of publishing. There is a subtle yet definitive power shift between the two women as the six scenes in six years play out before us. What starts out as a mentor-mentee relationship evolves into a friendship and later a power struggle.
For this show to work, you need two actresses capable of carrying the story. They need to be strong, even with their own vulnerabilities, and dominant enough to not be overpowered by the beautiful script. Director Ken Womble, an expert at deftly handling powerful stories, didn’t have to look far for his marvelous cast.
University of Norhtern Colorado Theatre professor Shelly Gaza plays Ruth, the elder writer, with both smoothness and grit. Gaza has a way of making all of her roles look easy and natural, and this is no exception. In the opening scene she is confident and in charge, but even as her self-confidence, strength and health decline, she maintains both her acid tongue and her wit. It is indeed a joy to watch this master teacher portraying a master teacher onstage.
Her protégé, Liza, is play by UNC student Olive McGowen, last seen in Wombel’s brilliant production of “August: Osage County.” At the beginning of the play, she is a tense and nervous girl, and we watch as she grows into a confident published writer. That she appropriated her source material is the major source of conflict and the reason we come to doubt her ethics. Like Gaza, McGowen gives a beautifully nuanced performance and shows us she is a performer we should expect big things from in the future.
These two performers are so gifted, so perfect in these roles, that there may be a temptation to shift your attention from the scripted words to the actors themselves. As marvelous as they are, this would be a mistake. There are many gems in the dialogue. I heard more than one member of the audience wishing they had paper and pen to write down some of the lines.
The set, lighting and costumes were all essentially (and appropriately) non-factors in this production, with the exception of the large lamp that Gaza had to awkwardly maneuver around and bounced distractingly whenever she sat in the rocker beside it.
The bottom line is this is a beautiful story, masterfully told by talented performers. Playing in repertory through July 22, this is a show you should not miss.
Bryan VanDriel lives in Greeley and has been active in the arts for over 35 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.