From left to right: Ruth Steiner (played by Beth DeVolder) and Lisa Morrison (played by Jennifer Kelly) discuss love, ethics, artistry and writing in a New York apartment in ECHO Players’ last play of the season, Collected Stories. — Adam Kveton Photo

REVIEW: Latest ECHO play a stirring piece of theatre

Two-woman show Collected Stories told with heart, skill in Qualicum Beach

Friendships are sticky, messy endeavours, where personalities impose their needs and deficiencies on each other, and everything that one chooses to do or not do has an effect on the other.

Add to that the fragility of the artistic ego, and two people whose livelihoods are made by fictionalizing both their own stories and that of the people around them, and you’ve got something like the star-crossed friendship of Ruth Steiner (played by Beth DeVolder) and Lisa Morrison (played by Jennifer Kelly).

Their story is told with great ability in ECHO Players’ last production of the season, Collected Stories, written by Donald Margulies and first performed in 1996.

The stage is set in Steiner’s New York apartment in the ’90s, where Steiner, an accomplished writer of short stories and teacher, awaits Morrison, her student, to work on Morrison’s latest story.

The play is not above physical comedy, with DeVolder getting some early laughs which she punctuates with a typical New Yorker f-bomb.

The dynamic between the two is that of fawning, falling-over-herself fan girl Morrison, and rough, unpleasant, disbelieving, knowledgeable veteran Steiner.

Both women do a strong job of immediately embodying their characters, delivering their lines with good timing, Kelly’s quick, bouncy movements immediately evoking a young, excited student, and DeVolder as Steiner clearly unimpressed.

Watching the two women change and age as their characters is a delight, with scenes jumping months then years, their relationship developing from teacher and student (or deity and disciple, as Morrison nearly says) to friends. Though it’s an uneasy friendship, as Morrison’s career gets off the ground and begins to flourish, and Steiner recalls her own success of years earlier.

From scene three in act one onward, both Morrison and the audience are unsure how Steiner will take Morrison’s latest triumph — with congratulations, comparisons to herself, or derision.

DeVolder and Kelly do a wonderful job of supporting the play from start to finish, bringing veracity to the complicated relationship, and even to small things like looking out the window of Steiner’s apartment, or recalling a former lover.

Their final scene, in which they and the audience examine whether Morrison’s first book is a betrayal or an homage, though long, is stunning and tragic.

This is a play to watch.

The play runs at the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach from April 19 to May 6. Tickets are available at www.echoplayers.ca/cs.php, by calling 250-752-3522, or at the box office in person during box office hours.

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