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TELLING 'STORIES' OUT OF SCHOOL.

Byline: - David Kronke

KCET's second production in its ``PBS Hollywood Presents'' film series, an adaptation of playwright Donald Margulies' ``Collected Stories,'' offers a compelling, exquisitely subtle exploration of the concepts of identity and loyalty.

Simply and smartly directed by Gilbert Cates on a modest budget, ``Collected Stories'' relates the tale of Ruth Steiner (Linda Lavin), a celebrated writer and fiction professor, and her latest protege, a callow, ambitious and highly worshipful pupil named Lisa Morrison (Samantha Mathis).

Steiner is perpetually distracted and bemused, yet sharply perceptive and acerbic when the need arises. Lisa is mentally peripatetic, yet beneath her scattered exterior and Valley Girl-speak, there's a caginess and, perhaps, genuine talent (though Margulies' offerings of her work are perfectly constructed, grasping, affected and even pretentious, with the occasionally inspired turn of phrase).

Lisa is variously scandalized that Steiner doesn't have an answering machine and rarely answers her phone, when she fibs before Congress to help the National Endowment of the Arts, over her youthful affair with a famous fading poet and at her frequent spasms of cranky behavior. Steiner at a certain point enjoys hearing herself dispense lavish and garrulous advice: ``You have a story to tell, tell it,'' she declares. ``Don't flinch.''

Eventually, Lisa follows that advice with grave repercussions for the two women's relationship.

Both actresses give astute, intimately observed performances, no doubt thanks to having played the roles at the Geffen Playhouse for a sizable chunk of time. Their final confrontation is wrenching, with no easy answers: Steiner has become embittered at her charge's eclipsing her own success, while Lisa, perhaps secretly realizing she has crossed an ethical line, pompously uses his mentor's own words to defend her actions. It's ugly, and tragic, and wonderfully compelling drama.

``PBS HOLLYWOOD PRESENTS: COLLECTED STORIES''

What: Adaptation of the stage drama about a writer and her complex relationship with her protege.

The stars: Linda Lavin, Samantha Mathis.

Where: KCET.

When: 9 tonight.

Our rating: Three and one half stars

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Samantha Mathis, left, and Linda Lavin star in the revealing drama ``Collected Stories,'' tonight on KCET.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Television Program Review
Date:Jan 16, 2002
Words:349
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