Lisa Morrison is an aspiring writer at the start of her career, a college student with real talent. Ruth Steiner is a well established writer who teaches in Lisa’s college. We meet Lisa on her first visit to Ruth’s apartment for a tutorial. Lisa is slightly star struck by Ruth. She knows all her work intimately and is able to quote character names of Ruth’s most obscure stories, which the writer herself can barely remember. When Lisa finds out that Ruth is looking for an assistant, she jumps at the chance. Ruth explains that it will not be the most glamorous job, but Lisa would do anything to be around one of her favourite writers. And so begins the unusual friendship between the two women. Ruth mentors Lisa, seeing the spark of her talent and helping it grow. The dynamic between the two women slowly alters over the course of the play, and a struggle begins between one artist on the way up and the other on the way down. When Lisa chooses to use part of Ruth’s private life for her first novel, it threatens to break their friendship apart.
The set is the front room of Ruth’s apartment, complete with book shelves, chairs and a desk filled with papers. There is a phone at the back of the set, which Ruth regularly allows to ring out, almost like she cannot hear it. The play was written in 1996, and is a world without mobile phones and other gadgets.
This is the type of play that actors delight in. It is a subtle and complex piece by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Donald Margulies. It is the type of work that needs an impressive level of acting to make it come to life, and luckily this is available here. Noreen Fynes shows great skill in giving depth to Steiner, a complicated older woman. Ruth has a quick wit and a barbed tongue, it’s the sort of part Maggie Smith would take great pleasure in. Niamh Kavanagh plays the fresh faced and innocent Lisa, and transforms from wide eyed ignorance to a confident young woman over the course of the play. The play is over two hours, and the second last scene feels unnecessary. The play would lose nothing be the removal of this scene, and it slows down the proceedings, and reduces the element of tension. This aside, there is very little to complain about in this well acted and crafted production.