Collected Stories, Piven Theatre. Piven's compact space gives us fly-on-the-wall access to the changing relationship between an acclaimed author and her protegee. The action, which takes place in six scenes over eight years, follows a graceful arc as the sycophantic novice ascends and her mentor declines into old age and infirmity.
Playwright Donald Margulies infuses the process with rich emotional dynamics, sharp commentary, and a moral dilemma that might be interpreted as the student becoming the teacher or as the monster turning on Dr. Frankenstein. Under Joyce Piven's able direction, Cheryl Graeff bubbles over with nervous energy before blossoming into a confident young author, and Maya Friedler as the acerbic grouch reveals motherly soft spots before withering into obscurity. Ryan Magnuson and Liz Renaldi's costumes effectively reinforce the characters' shifts: Graeff starts out in a too young denim miniskirt for the first meeting with her elegantly attired idol and ends in a simple, sophisticated gown while visiting her failing pajama-clad teacher. In addition to showing admirable stamina--both characters are onstage 90 percent of the time--the actors demonstrate a great comfort with their roles, although Friedler's quavering delivery occasionally sounds like a nervous search for the next line.
Set designer John Dalton has created a cozy, professorial New York apartment, and Scott Ian Lefton has provided authentic sound details, including traffic noises wafting up through the open window and sophisticated jazz on the stereo.