Los Angeles Theater Review: COLLECTED STORIES (Odyssey Theatre)

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by Tom Chaits on September 19, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

COLLECTED STORIES: A SNOOZE INDUCING  “WRITE” OF PASSAGE

As a critic I hope for one of two things: either a production is fantastic or, to be blunt, it sucks. For me at least, a review of a great show or an awful show practically writes itself: it’s the critiques of the so-so ones that take forever to pen.  Unfortunately most shows fall into the vast in between: not terrible; not terrific; just merely middling. And therein lies the rub.

Presented by Langland Productions (executive produced by 3x Oscar-nominee Diane Ladd) at the Odyssey Theatre, Collected Stories is one such show. Even more perplexing (and disappointing) is the fact that it’s hailed as a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Ovation-winning play written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies (Dinner With Friends). Going in my expectations were high but by the final curtain I found myself humming the Leiber and Stoller classic, “Is That All There Is?” Did I miss something? Judging by the fact that a third of the audience did not return after the intermission, and that several of the returnees opted to catch 40 winks instead of watching the second act, I wasn’t the only one scratching my head.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of COLLECTED STORIES at The Odyssey, Los AngelesThe two character plot revolves around a classic mentor / mentee relationship. In this scenario, Ruth Steiner (April Lang), a past-her-prime writer of some limited renown, takes aspiring wordsmith Lisa Morrison (Natalie Sutherland) under her wing in her cramped and crowded Greenwich Village apartment. The difficult and demanding Ruth is cantankerous and uncooperative at first but – guess what? – the effusive and determined Lisa, a major fan of Ruth’s work, wins her over and they soon become not only colleagues but friends and family. Under Ruth’s tutelage, Lisa begins to shine and soon becomes a rising star on the literary scene. All is going along swimmingly until Lisa commits a betrayal and the relationship is strained and quite possibly kaput. Whether the betrayal is purposeful, unknowing, or a result of her total inability to assess the consequences of a total lack of ethics is never fully divulged. Since the conflict is never resolved, it’s up to the viewer to decide Lisa’s modus operandi and the ultimate outcome her transgressions will have on the pair.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of COLLECTED STORIES at The Odyssey, Los AngelesThere is nothing inherently wrong with the script. It’s quite conversational and the  relationship unfolds in a convincing, if not totally predictable, manner. The problem is that for the longest time it doesn’t seem to really be going anywhere and then when the “shocker” moment arrives well into Act 2 it’s way too little and way too late to justify the time you’ve spent getting to know the girls. It’s an investment that doesn’t pay off.

Under the direction  of Terri Hanauer, Ms. Sutherland and Ms. Lang deliver well-crafted and fully realized characters. If only the script was as multi-layered as their performances, the end result would  have added up to more. Alas, it wasn’t, and the audience is left with one big not-great-not-terrible-just-merely-middling-“So-What?”-snooze-fest.

photos by Numa Perrier

Collected Stories
Langland Productions at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles
scheduled to end on October 14, 2012
for tickets, call ­310-477-2055 or visit The Odyssey Theatre

{ 2 comments }

alice simpson September 23, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Having seen this play in New York with Uta Hagen in 1998 and Linda Lavin in 2010, if played with a believable balance between mentor and student, it leaves the audience with challenging questions of ethics and ownership. It is one of my favorite plays, which I am disappointed to read you disagree.

Tony Frankel September 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I’m curious, Alice, have you seen the production at the Odyssey that this review is about?

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