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Capturing an Era
Donald MarguliesI have always been interested in the Beat generation and the freedom of expression that came out of the Eisenhower era, strangely enough. The sound of it, the jazz of it, and literally the music of that time has always interested me. I think that if I had chosen a time in which to live, that that would have been a time that I would have found quite exciting. I was born during that era, in 1954.

I felt that when Ruth tells her story, which is really the centerpiece of the play, it should be a kind of conjuring that takes us back atmospherically to that place that lives so vividly for her. So that was really the piece of the puzzle that she brings on stage through language. The film might have been more literal with Ruth's past of the ‘50s, but it wasn't important for me to see her as that young girl in the White Horse Tavern. But rather to see her weave this spell on Lisa and, one hopes, on the audience. I think that that is the kind of transportive experience that can take place using the power of the imagination.

On the Play's Universal Appeal
I think Collected Stories has traveled well because its themes cross cultures. Mentors and protégés exist everywhere. Most people, at some point in their lives, have known what it's like to be a student or a teacher, a child or a parent, to have loved someone not their child with the intensity of a parent for a child or vice versa. Most people have felt betrayed or committed betrayal, deliberately or unknowingly.

That Ruth and Lisa are writers places them in a specific milieu, but I don't necessarily see Collected Stories as a play about writers. It is about a great many things, certainly, but it is primarily a play about how human beings try to engage one another, pass along traditions, fulfill the powerful need for family. I have always been interested in the ways that we create families out of our friends or acquaintances—the kind of neuroticism that takes place even in the workplace, where we re-create aspects of family life. Ruth is childless, Lisa is alienated from her own parents. They feed each other. The elaborate dance Ruth and Lisa perform is a ritual that defies borders.

The Maturation of Writers
There comes a time when a writer is ready to write about certain things, whether or not they are ready at the time that they get the idea to write about that subject. I probably couldn't have written my earlier plays, that dealt specifically with my lower-middle-class upbringing in Brooklyn, while both my parents were alive. So there were stories that I needed to tell, but I did wait for the time to tell them, so that I would be able to tell them as fully as possible, without a sense of guilt or shame.

I teach playwriting at Yale University, and what I most often am confronted with in young writers is a great passion for writing, the romance of writing. But what I rarely see is a compelling sense of what the stories are they wish to tell. That compulsion to tell a story is the mark of real talent. You can't teach that, but you can teach yourself to recognize when something is not simply a clever idea, but a story which you're passionate about and need to tell.  [ Next Page ]



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