Who owns your life story? Two plays — one new, the other a revival — running blocks apart, pivot around this question.
In the stronger one, Donald Margulies’ 1996 “Collected Stories,” a mature short-story writer, played by Linda Lavin, meets a young student (Sarah Paulson) who venerates her, becomes her assistant, and proceeds to plunder the facts of her life to construct her first novel.
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The new show, “Bass for Picasso,” is a scary little dramedy by Kate Moira Ryan, produced by Theater Breaking Through Barriers, a company that integrates able-bodied and disabled actors. Though one of its performers is an amputee (Anita Hollander, playing one-legged food writer Francesca Danieli), the disabilities here are primarily emotional: Danieli is unspeakably rude and self-absorbed; her lover’s a multi-lingual dingbat obsessed with American products. Their dinner guests include a failed playwright, Kev (Terry Small), busy falling off the wagon; a physician living with a meth addict who never makes it to the party; and a recently widowed mom with whose late partner, it emerges, Danieli has had an affair. Kev’s new play exploits the stories of the other characters; should it get produced, the widow is liable to lose custody of her child. Cell phones get a serious workout, as does the corkscrew.
The fact that all these people are gay is both central and irrelevant: Ryan’s achingly arch, snippy script plumbs every cliche about homosexuality, while stealing the central plot device from Margulies, and even some lines. Both plays are media obsessed and very local. My money’s on the Margulies.