LEWISTON – “Collected Stories” at The Public Theatre is likely to be one of the most memorable plays yet presented there.

From word one, the audience hangs on every bit of dialogue in this precisely crafted play by Donald Margulies. Its subject is privacy and whether a writer has the right to tell all. It’s a question all creative people are challenged to address, and the answer is elusive.

This two-hour performance flies by as Deborah Jean Templin and Emma O’Donnell develop an enthralling relationship between a respected author and her young protégé. This is the first appearance of the two New York actresses with The Public Theatre.

O’Donnell portrays Lisa, a devoted student of the noted writer who hungrily absorbs every bit of advice and information from her mentor, including personal details that she incorporates in her own book after six years of friendship.

Templin, as Ruth, is a tough teacher in the beginning, driving home her conviction that stories must be told, let the chips fall where they may. As Lisa’s awe turns to confidence, we see her intention to use the material for her own purposes, and she convincingly defends that purpose with her teacher’s own words.

Ruth’s strength shifts to vulnerability over the course of the six years in which the two women meet. At the end, Ruth is devastated by Lisa’s apparent betrayal of trust.

At one point, Ruth tells her student, “I don’t care what the basis of the story is, as long as it’s a good story.”

Later, she declares, “Some things you don’t touch.”

Those are the two sides of the dilemma in “Collected Stories,” and it is not resolved.

It is not meant to be resolved.

The playwright leaves the moral conclusions to the core viewer, and there’s an implication as well that the reader, the audience or the buyer and end-user of a creative product also bears responsibility for demanding to know all at any cost.

Those questions were examined following the Sunday matinee, Jan. 25, when about two dozen members of the audience stayed to talk with the two actresses and Christopher Schario, artistic director of The Public Theatre and director of this production. They pointed out how every creative person looks at the works and experiences of others, and then chooses what to use and what to discard.

They pointed out that Margulies placed ammunition enough for either argument on the issue in his exchanges between Lisa and Ruth.

While the subject of privacy presented an engrossing framework for this play, it also offered a remarkable format in which the personalities of the two characters shifted, and each took on the strengths and weaknesses of the other as the play progressed.

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