Between the mentor and the mentored lies a deeply complex dynamic — one that has, for countless generations, been a pivotal aspect in the passage of knowledge and skill to new minds. In Donald Margulies’ two-person play, “Collected Stories,” the audience is given a glimpse into a particular student-teacher relationship, unearthing a struggle of time, power and emotion.
From Sept. 27 to Sept. 29, The Readers’ Theatre will open a window into Margulies’ production, hosting its own staged-reading of “Collected Stories” at the Black Box Theatre at Lehman Alternative Community School on Chestnut Street. Barbara Adams, associate professor of writing, takes on the role of the world-weary novelist Ruth Steiner. Adams will star with Helen T. Clark, a teaching artist at the Hangar Theatre, as Lisa Morrison, an eager-to-learn student ready to absorb whatever wisdom Ruth is willing to dole out. In addition, Nikki Schwarz ’02 delivers live vocal performances between each of the play’s six scenes.
The play, which spans 90 minutes, takes audience members through six years of Ruth and Lisa’s lives. Adams said chronicling the development of their mentorship aids in crafting conflict between the characters.
“The structure over several years makes this happen,” Adams said. “There’s time for real change, and there’s real conflict.”
Viewers follow the pair as unfamiliarity gives way to mentorship, and how the relationship evolves into a clash of power and jealousy. Anne Marie Cummings, founder of The Readers’ Theatre and director of the production, said the minimal cast aids in the play’s character and suits the theater space well.
“It’s an intimate play, which fits very well with The Readers’ Theatre,” Cummings said. “Two-person plays are some of my favorites. Certainly for the actors, it gives them a nice chance to dig their teeth into these characters.”
The actresses approached their roles differently. Clark said she doesn’t rely on a specific technique, but rather tackles her roles by figuring out what may be difficult for her.
“I just sort of see where the challenges are, see where I need to fix things myself and find the best way that I feel I can approach it,” Clark said.
Adams, who has taken theater classes and has participated in street theater, said her experience has been different. While the production wasn’t completely alien to her, she doesn’t shy from making it clear she’s in a realm less familiar to her with “Collected Stories,” than Clark. She said developing her character was a matter of immersing herself in the tale.
“I’m listening to the story,” Adams said. “And it’s a feeling of being in that story, and thinking about who the characters are and just identifying with the characters, sensing them, feeling them.”
The production set is minimal and uses little technology. Cummings said technology-driven sets may distract audiences from the characters.
Adams said she hopes student attendees come away with a new appreciation for student-teacher friendships and keep the sentiments of this play for a lifetime.
“What would be neat for students … is that they get to see a student-teacher relationship that is outside the classroom — and those exist,” she said. “I don’t think they know how some of them might go on for a lifetime and how complicated they can get.”
Ultimately, Cummings said she believes people will attend the performance for the relatable nature of the cast and how it may reflect the audience’s own experiences with mentorship.
“This is about identifying with these characters,” Cummings said. “Students and teachers that see this will identify, because they’re either going to identify with the character Lisa if they’re a student, or they’ll identify with Ruth. I think that everybody has a mentor, whether they’re a student or a mentor themselves.”
“Collected Stories” will run Sept. 27 to Sept. 29 at The Black Box Theatre. Friday and Saturday performances will be at 8 p.m. and Sunday shows at 6:30 p.m.