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Gil CatesLinda LavinSamantha MathisDennis Doty

Choosing the Role
The Source
Building the Character

Building the Character

Who is Ruth Steiner?
Linda LavinRuth is a great American short story writer and a great teacher. She's a woman of accomplishment, an articulate woman and a woman with a past, a history that reeks of the romance of a particular time in New York. She understands that you can't really teach someone how to be talented, but you can teach them skills and ask them the right questions. Ruth is careful and thoughtful; she has hidden passions; she has limited patience with mediocrity. And a great sense of humor.
 

Identifying with the Character
      Linda Lavin
Ruth is somebody who was a lot like I was when I first came to New York. Innocent and a good girl, a nice Jewish girl. I was all that too. Coming to the big city -- it was like Morocco. Dark, exotic and exciting -- and a place of opportunity and potential. Ruth came a little earlier, but I came to New York in 1960 when you could still hear jazz in small clubs and poets in coffeehouses. There were auditions to go to and there was street life and the life of the theater, which was vital and alive. And full not only of promise, but rejection and fear and loneliness and isolation -- and the willingness to beat a path through those streets. She is a product of all that, as am I.

The Characters' Relationship

Linda Lavin and Samantha Mathis
 
     
It's a teacher-student relationship. That's how it begins. Lisa, played by Samantha Mathis, comes to take a tutorial with Ruth and she seems more intelligent, introspective and invested in detail than many of Ruth's students. So Ruth takes a special interest in her.

The teacher asks the questions and then listens to the answers. As a teacher of acting I do this too. I ask the student, " What did you want to accomplish, what brought you to this place?" Ruth does the same thing, and it slowly evolves from a work relationship to a personal friendship.

Slowly and graciously they feel more comfortable with each other, little by little, and you can see Ruth let her go of her guard and her protective coating. She reveals her most private history. The relationship is packed with attention to each other and with caution. There's the dictator and the yearning student -- who's in charge, who's higher up, who has the power. And then comes, as with all relationships, the turning-point.

The dynamic of the relationship becomes more and more surged with hurt and anger and frustration. And you see inklings of it along the way, the way in which the young person withholds when the older person has opened up, and it's just the opposite of what you think might happen.

 
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