Wednesday, October 12, 2011

PAGETURNER By Beverly Creasey

If you want to see what the New Repertory Theatre does better than anyone else, do not miss their astonishing production of Donald Marguilies’ COLLECTED STORIES (through October 30th). New Rep can take a small story and create a perfect storm where consummate acting, stellar directing and an elegant set (not to mention light, sound and costumes) come together to breathtaking effect. No matter where you sit, you are immersed in the stunning intimacy of the play. The unassuming title of Marguilies’ brilliant little morality piece belies its power and depth of emotion.

This seemingly simple story about a professor and a student will engage you in Act I with its witty banter and leave you aghast at the betrayal in Act II. COLLECTED STORIES has all the excitement of a high stakes showdown…with just two characters and the written word! Not since Abby Hoffman’s cheeky Steal This Book, has larceny paid off so well.

Marguilies sets the scene right from the getgo: Art, the professor/mentor tells her eager charge at their first session, is the exaggeration of truth…to which you add a crisis. With that crisis, Marguilies dynamites the touching relationship between Bobbie Steinbach (in a tour de force as the older woman) and Liz Hayes (in a horrifying turn as the student).

Even though one might classify COLLECTED STORIES as one of those “ripped from the headlines” plays, it never feels like it. Your mind may reflect for a second on the many actual instances you’ve read about but the story immediately draws you back. The credit for that must go to director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary for the delicate, sensitive bond between these two women…and of course, to Steinbach and Hayes for the clarion emotional tether they share. Steinbach’s exquisite pain is palpable when Hayes’ character “crosses the line.”

Jenna McFarland Lord’s gorgeous, floor-to-ceiling book filled set tells you all you need to know about the eccentric professor’s lifestyle (and nails the decade, as well). Tyler Kinney’s hip, New York, “unstudied” costumes, especially for the darker Act II (when Deb Sullivan’s evocative lighting tells us something is wrong) fit like a glove with David Reiffel’s undulating jazz. In short, all the elements merge to tell the story.