Identity theft has become the crime of the moment, with numerous tales of forged and stolen IDs and credit cards, but whereas there's definitely a moral issue there, the emotion stirred up is most likely to be no greater than righteous indignation. When morality and emotion are mingled with an artist's identity and self-determination, however, more than one's dubious purchasing power is at stake.
In this Donald Margulies opus, Ruth Steiner, a writer of note and a renowned teacher of writing, takes grad student Lisa Morrison into her home as her student aide, in exchange for mentoring the promising young writer. The tough-as-nails teacher and the awestruck student have early trouble finding common ground, other than their passion for writing, but Lisa's intelligence and her respect for Steiner's work bring them to a point of bonding as mentor and protegee, as professor and student, almost as mother and daughter. As the teacher declines, the student advances, however, as if she's borrowing some of the older woman's light to bathe in. When Lisa sells her first story, it's awhile before she shares the information with Steiner, probably fearing Ruth's jealousy of her growing powers.
Dorothy Sinclair is threateningly real as the aging teacher, maybe not hard enough or big enough in the first act but developing the stature the role requires in the second act conflict, when she totally comes into her own and moves us into her disappointment. It's then we see the devastation of the generations in battle, the waning of Steiner's physical power and the accompanying lack of forbearance for Lisa's youthful skittishness.
Stacey Stone's Lisa is a lovely chameleon, refreshingly untried and raw, then slowly blooming into confidence and ease in the older woman's presence; her character manages to strain the hidden darkness of Ruth's life in Greenwich Village in the 1950s through the sieve of her green romanticism and serve it up as her own in her first novel--the ultimate betrayal.
The issues are honor and honesty, aging and waning powers, ethics and the literary process up against emotional truth--a story of two women at opposite ends of the balance beam. All is beautifully realized by director Joel Asher on an excellent set by Jeff G. Rack (although we would have expected more books), with fine lighting by Ellen Monocroussos and costumes by Gloria Stroock.