PBS (KCET) has made a television episodic drama based on this play by Donald Margulies, starring Linda Lavin and Samantha Matthis, who have both performed this play on stage at the Geffen playhouse. This is simply a moving and inspirational play, well-written and powerful. It takes place in the early 90's in Greenwich Village. A young writer and student (Debra) has applied for a job as an assistant/gopher to an elderly teacher and successfully published writer, Ruth Steiner. She undergoes tutorials with Ruth and they develop a friendship, although there are moments when Debra invades Ruth's personal space. For example, Debra rearranges Ruth's things and Ruth becomes upset. There is also a scene in which Debra accidentally discovers a letter by Ruth's old flame and mentor, the beatnick poet Delmore Schwartz.
Ruth and Debra's relationship dominates the play. They have a tense, fragile relationship that in the end, has to do with time, although the argument about professional jealousy can be made. Debra has made it as a writer, enjoying both friendship and support from the wise, urbane Ruth who has become set in her ways. But when Debra writes her first novel, she touches a subject that is too personal for Ruth. It is in fact the first love and artistic experience that Ruth had with Delmore Swartz that causes the gap between their friendship. It is interesting to note how easily you can at first sympathize with Debra, whose excuse was that she was honoring Ruth and not parodying her in any way. Nevertheless, I've read this play time and again, and can also understand the heartbreak and betrayal Ruth goes when her stories are taken. That is the point of the play: who owns your life ? Who has the right to tell a story ? It is as much a lesson in great drama as it is in life.
Actors and actresses will benefit immensely from this play. It is well written, makes a good script or screenplay and has every inch of emotional and powerful material, especially concering older colleague versus younger. Both characters are well-rounded, intelligent, mature, emotional and must be electric on stage. Ruth Steiner's character, in my opinion, has the most characterization. She is sophisticated, she is urbane, she is innately Jewish and possesses a great deal of knowledge and in the same light as Debra's young, intense persona, it's clearly great drama. Secondly and finally, this is a great book to read in a drama class or simply in an English course in high school. What teacher would not consider this great modern drama ? I will be only glad to recommend this to my fellow teacher friends.