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Opportunity Knocks

Playwright Donald Margulies' 'Collected Stories,' his first full-length play since 'Sight Unseen,' explores a moral dilemma of authorship and artistry. So what did he use for inspiration?

October 27, 1996|Sean Mitchell | Sean Mitchell is an occasional contributor to Calendar

"I do think that seeing them over time is something that maintained my enthusiasm for the form. I think if I just had two people sitting around talking for two hours, I would have had a helluva time. But time intrudes. Time is the third character in this play essentially. Because time is having this effect on each of them and their powers. One is gaining and one is diminishing. The ground is constantly shifting under them, and that's compelling to me."

Margulies, an Easterner right down to the tweed sport coat he is wearing on this hot October day, has developed an unmistakable Southern California connection through his South Coast commissions, extended by its dramaturge, Jerry Patch, who worked with him on "Collected Stories" at the Sundance Playwrights Conference in Utah last year. But even before "Sight Unseen," his play "The Model Apartment" was first staged at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1988. (It didn't reach New York until last year, when a production directed by Peterson won him his second Obie Award.)

He remembers how odd it was to hear about Hollywood people flying to New York to check out "Sight Unseen," either unaware it had first been done at South Coast or uninterested until the imprimatur of New York success had been bestowed upon it. (It's the sort of cultural irony that you would not be surprised to see noted in a Margulies play.)

He has written a dozen screenplays, none of them produced but paid for by companies representing Robin Williams, Bruce Willis and other Hollywood players.

"I enjoy screenwriting," he says. "I find that I use a different part of my brain. I do long for the return of the craft of screenwriting, judging by the current output compared to the movies I grew up loving and seeing. There just seems to be a vast difference today and a terrible decline."

In discussing the somewhat harsh, untidy ending of "Collected Stories," he jokes that "the movie version would have some sort of reconciliation."

And more than likely it would not be written by him.


"Collected Stories," South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Opens Friday. Tuesdays to Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Dec. 1. $18 to $39. (714) 957-4033.

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