Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

When Is Someone Else's Story Off Limits?

Donald Margulies's Collected Stories explores the manners and morals of being a writer.

By Holly Beretto May 13, 2019

Kim Tobin-Lehl and Reagan Elizabeth in 4th Wall Theatre's Collected Stories.

Collected Stories is the story of Ruth Steiner, a teacher and well-respected writer, and her student and protégé Lisa Morrison. Unfolding over six years, Donald Margulies’s play follows the rise of Lisa’s career and examines the idea of what happens when you tell someone your story. Does it stop being your own? Is it fair game for someone else to manipulate into their own?

“It’s this question of, if you tell a story to someone, does it then become free material for someone else to use,” says Kim Tobin-Lehl, who plays Ruth in the play. “But it’s also about wisdom and information and how we transfer those things to others and how they are translated and absorbed into someone else’s life.”

Tobin-Lehl, who also serves as co-artistic director of 4th Wall Theatre Company, where the show opens this week, enjoys the way the women’s relationship unfolds across the two-character play.

“These two women have very different realms of experience,” she says. “And the way they communicate with each other produces very different results. It’s fascinating to watch. I really think the way older generations communicate with younger generations is going to resonate a lot with audiences.”

She says the consequences of assuming that someone else will understand what you mean when you say something can be epic. Ruth, she says, tries to be an example to Lisa, both in how to be a writer but also in how to be woman. In doing so, the pair make assumptions about each other and their intentions, which come back to cause tension.

“We don’t always have deep conversations with the people we love,” says Tobin-Lehl, “even though we think we do. We don’t come right out and say, ‘If you do this, you will hurt me.’ So, for me, looking at how do we not leave things unsaid is a big undercurrent in this show.”

She hopes that will not only be a reference point for audiences, but that they might leave the theater talking about exactly those things.

 May 16–June 8. Tickets $32. 4th Wall Theatre, 1824 Spring St. 832-767-4991. More info and tickets at 4thwalltheatreco.com.

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