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Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012

Two Great Actresses, One Awful Script

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The relationship between master and student can be fascinating. Donald Margulies' Collected Stories attempts to explore this relationship in a script that lacks much of any novelty or insight. Milwaukee Chamber Theatre stages a production of the two-person drama that is nevertheless solidly entertaining thanks to a pair of talented actresses.

C. Michael Wright directs a cozy, little studio theater production of the drama. Sarah Day plays a successful novelist named Ruth Steiner who accepts her student Lisa Morrison (Laura Frye) as a personal assistant. Lisa learns from the ornery elder artist, gradually reaching a level of critical acclaim herself.

The story progresses predictably, which wouldn't be a problem but for the lack of anything particularly interesting passing between the two characters. The dialogue and much of the plot is very clichéd. It says a lot about Milwaukee Chamber Theatre that they're able to get this one to work. As a director, Wright has taken a flaccid, uninspired story and turned it into something better.

Day coaxes her character into being a lot more touching than she has a right to be. In and of herself, the elder author is a little more than a collection of vague stereotypes. Though there is little to truly grapple with as this character, Sarah Day does a really good job of making her seem interesting beyond the cliché.

The young student goes through a much more dramatic transformation over the course of the drama. It's just not a very interesting transformation. That Frye is able to make this character seem at all appealing is testament to what overwhelming charm she can bring to a stage.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's production of Collected Stories continues through Dec. 16 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre. For ticket reservations, call 414-291-7800.