by Rita Charleston
Two strong female characters take center stage in Act II Playhouse’s drama, “Collected Stories” by Donald Margulies, playing in Ambler Oct. 23 to Nov. 18. Directed by Jessica Bedford, the play features Susan Riley Stevens as Ruth Steiner, an acclaimed short story writer, and newcomer Sarah Paton as Steiner’s talented student, Lisa Morrison.
Taking place in Ruth’s Greenwich Village apartment, the play follows the two women over six years as the power dynamic between them constantly changes. Their deepening relationship comes to a dramatic head over a dispute about Lisa’s first novel, a work based on Ruth’s affair with the poet Delmore Schwartz. The women then deal with the moral dilemma of whether a person’s life events are suitable for another to use in their creative process.
Says Paton, “I saw this play years ago in New York, and the burning question still lingers: Who really owns the story? Is there anything off limits in art, or should an artist be able to use whatever inspires them? I think everyone who sees the play will come away with a different answer, and I think that’s the way Margulies meant it to be.
“While the characters of Ruth and Lisa are fictional, Delmore Schwartz was a real person. And although a womanizer who had many affairs with young women, he was also a larger-than-life character who was an inspiration to many writers, including Ruth.”
The play, which was first produced in California, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1997. Eventually making its way to Off-Broadway, “Collected Stories” received the Drama Desk Award nomination for Best Play, and was a finalist for the Dramatists Guild/Huff-Warriner Award for Best Play.
Paton, 27, who is making her Act II debut as well as her debut in Philadelphia, says she is thrilled to be doing both. The New Jersey native, who studied at Princeton University and the American Repertory Theater, admits she always thought about becoming an actor, especially with a father who was a drama teacher, but initially was afraid to try. “I’m basically a shy person, so I originally majored in religion, and it wasn’t until I was getting close to graduating that I began studying theater, realizing I would never be truly happy unless I followed my heart in some way.”
So after receiving her undergraduate degree from Princeton, Paton enrolled at the American Repertory Theater Institute/Moscow Art Theatre School at Harvard University to receive her MFA in Acting in 2016. Since then, Paton has been building a career in theater, film and television. And in between acting roles, “while trying to keep in the world of theater,” Paton teaches acting to children.
“Today, the best part of what I’m doing is appearing in this role at Act II. I’ve never been in a show where every single person in the room is a woman. It’s a wonderful and intimate experience, especially in this play, and helps make these characters as real as possible. Of course, there’s the other side of the coin, and the toughest part of the business is the lack of stability and the fact that you become vulnerable and have to always be ready to share yourself.”
But, Paton says, that’s a small price to pay for doing something you love to do. “For me, the stage allows me a degree of freedom and the ability to live in the moment. My only wish now is to keep doing wonderful plays and appearing in wonderful regional theaters.”
For ticket information, call 215- 654-0200.