'Collected Stories' tells a tale of two women

Feichter Studio show begins Friday
By Stina Sieg | Feb 08, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg "Collected Stories," which centers on the relationship between two women, stars Emily Warren (hugger) and Lyn Donley (huggee) and starts this Friday at the Feichter Studio. Their characters' connection is not nearly as simple as this image suggests.

“Collected Stories,” the newest addition to this winter’s crop of Feichter Studio plays, is about the relationship between two women. In other words, it is one complex piece of theater. Just ask a woman.

As Emily Warren, one of its two stars, described the show, it was impossible to tell who is the villain and who is the hero, or even if there is a happy ending in sight.

“But that’s life, isn’t it?” Warren said. “What relationship is really ever truly resolved?”

Certainly not this one, from the sound of it. Set in the world of East Coast academia, the piece revolves around Lisa Morrison (Warren), a graduate student and aspiring writer, and her professor, famous author Ruth Steiner (Lyn Donley). At first, their connection is a teacher-student thing. Then, it becomes more of a master-apprentice dynamic and then an exchange of friendship. Eventually, the women are colleagues, maybe even peers. None of these power shifts are simple or free of ulterior motives, of course. There may not be a lot of action in these changes of consciousness, but there definitely is drama. It’s what makes the play come alive.

Donley, who describes erudite Ruth as “someone who reads the ‘New York Times’ Sunday section from cover to cover,” explained the play will mean different things to different audience members. Of course, she must believes her feisty, take-no-prisoners character is the right, but also admits that not everyone will feel the same.

“There will be some audiences that side with me, and there will be some audiences that side with Emily,” she promised.

Though Donley is devoted to Ruth, she stills sees the beauty in this ambiguity. Having lived in New York City before, she knows the high-browed community of intellectuals has both good and bad elements. Sure, these people can be brilliant, but they can also condescending on an Olympic level. Donley knows this because they were her friends.

That is only one of the reasons this play personal to her, however. She stressed that many of the show's dynamics strike a chord in her — and will in others, she believes.

“I think a lot of women can relate to it because of their relationship with their own mothers,” Donley said.

For Warren, “Collected Stories” rings true on still another level. Now a senior at UNC Asheville, she knows first-hand that desire to please a professor who is tough to impress. The play is acts as both a mirror and an outlet for her frustration about this.

One of her favorite things about being Lisa is “getting to say what I wish I could say in real life — but I just don’t have the guts to,” Warren said.

She and Donley aren’t the only ones who see how easy it is to personally relate to this story, which is actually quite timeless. Director Suzanne Tinsley, whom the pair expressly recruited, named off a handful of ways she sees her own life’s dramas in the show. From the understanding of what it is to mentor (as she is the mother of three), to the hunger for applause, to the complications that go along with any important relationship, she gets it. She thinks others will, too.

“To me, that’s what art is, is whoever sees it, sees themselves,” she said. “Whoever reads it, reads themselves. Whoever hears it, hears themselves.”

Everything she has read about this Broadway show calls it a “love story,” she went on. She understands but also knows this isn’t the kind of stuff of which romantic comedies are made. This is more real, more naked and less black-and-white. A strange truth behind the story is that while the leads are in an emotional tussle most of the show, both are getting something they need. Ruth wants to teach, and Lisa wants to learn, and they both succeed.

Eventually, Lisa “learns the lessons and does an exemplary job with what she’s taught,” Tinsley said.

That’s not the end of the story, though. That would be too easy, and neither of these strong characters is about make anything easy. Their power struggle doesn’t fit neatly into a box and can’t be boiled down into any one thing. Even the basic question of who is right and who is wrong is fuzzy and ultimately up for interpretation.

But that’s life, isn’t it?

“Collected Stories” will be at Haywood Arts Regional Theatre’s Feichter Studio at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 10 and 11, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, with possible holdover dates next week. For tickets, call 456-6322 Monday through Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. All shows are in the Feichter Studio Theatre, 250 Pigeon St., in Waynesville.