Who owns your memories? It is a strange question, and one which opens conversation about intellectual property, personal experience, ownership, and the often blurred line between what is right and what is wrong. In Collected Stories, playwright David Margulies raises these issues, and Milena Herring further explores these issues and more in her production of the controversial play opening at Trustus Theatre this August.
Collected Stories tells the tale of the changing relationship between two women over a span of six years. Ruth Steiner, played by Elena Martinez, takes the role of teacher and mentor to the younger Lisa Morrison, played by E. G. Heard Engle. Ruth is a respected professor and short story writer in her mid-fifties who takes on Lisa, graduate student and aspiring writer, as her assistant. As the years pass, they become friends and eventually adversaries as one character makes a choice that forever changes both women’s lives, careers, and futures.
A USC graduate, director Milena Herring worked in New York in the theater business for thirty years before returning to Columbia in 2010. Her love for Collected Stories originally sparked when she saw the play performed in New York in 1997 by Uta Hagen and Debra Messing. Herring is thrilled to finally have the opportunity to direct Collected Stories.
“What appealed to me about the play originally was the veracity of who is wrong and who is right. There’s a point in the play where the audience gives a collective gasp and realizes a truth about ones of the characters,” Herring says, recalling when she first saw the play years ago. “The plays that I love, both as a director and as a member of the audience, are plays that move the audience from point A to point B or even point W—they move the audience intellectually or emotionally, and this play does both.”
Collected Stories deals with numerous highly charged ideas and themes ranging from betrayal, intellectual property, the creative process, aging, lost love, and literary appropriation. “It’s a good thinking person’s play,” Herring says. The play deals with these heavy issues with honesty and oftentimes humor. “It’s just very real,” Herring adds. “In the 1960s it would have been called kitchen sink realism. It’s a slice of life. You’re dropping in on a conversation between Lisa and Ruth over six years.”
In this unique two-person play, both actors are equally passionate about the issues the play raises and the story it tells. “This is a story about two women and their friendship. Friendships change and shift over time as lives change, and I love that their relationship is the root of the play,” says Engle, who takes the roll of Lisa Morrison. Elena Martinez Vidal, who plays Ruth Steiner, said “I like this kind of show because it can engender tons of discussion…The play does not guide the audience to any conclusions: they will have to make up their own minds. And those conclusions will probably depend a lot on their experiences and backgrounds.” Collected Stories will leave you wondering to what extent your life is your own and how one person’s experience can become another person’s story.
Collected Stories is the celebratory closing play for the 28th season at Trustus Theatre. “The first play of the season was Next to Normal, and it was a really fine local production you could hold up to any New York production,” Herring recalls. “Collected Stories is a good counter production to Next to Normal…They’re good bookends to the season.” Raising ideas pertinent to theater itself such as intellectual property and literary appropriation, Collected Stories is a brave production that is sure to keep the audience guessing until the end and, as they exit the theater, leave them with the haunting question, Who owns your memories?
Three leading ladies work together to run this play, two on-stage and one off-, and make it an experience no one will soon forget or, for that matter, be able to stop talking about. Sponsored by Callison Tighe with consideration by Muddy Ford Press, Collected Stories will run on the Trustus main stage from August 15th through the 18th. Trustus Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street. For tickets and more information, visit www.trustus.org or call the box office Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-6 pm at 803-254-9732.
— Jaquelyn Mohan, Jasper intern