Publishers Can Take Warning from Broadway’s ‘Collected Stories’

Rupert Murdoch and Jonathan Burnham, consider yourself warned. Playwright Donald Margulies has assumed the role of a publishing soothsayer, and what he predicts isn’t pretty.

Margulies has been all but taking a midnight ride up and down Broadway’s Shubert Alley on horseback, warning all in earshot, “The end of modern publishing is coming.”

Apple’s Steve Jobs might have dropped a gift from heaven into the laps of the media elite with the iPad, providing publishers of both news and books a new method of delivering their content to consumers, but if watching Margulies’ two recent Broadway plays prove anything, it’s that the method of delivery publishers should be worried about is the lack of words and unique voices. In the end, that will be the issue which ultimately brings publishing to its knees.

Earlier this season, Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club staged Margulies’ play Time Stands Still, a provocative look at the world of war correspondents and how the stresses of reporting on human suffering and carnage crippled some to the point of giving up the job or having a mental breakdown. It left the fear that without a nurturing publication and editor, a vital resource to the spread of information will ultimately vanish. When news aggregators and diminishing newspaper budgets result in fewer war correspondent positions, the idea of any publication being a “paper of record” becomes threatened.

Now comes a lesson to the other side of the “words” game, book publishing, in the form of Collected Stories, the latest Margulies play to be staged by MTC at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Words, and the emotional anguish that goes into creating them, are the central figures in this play, and like Time Stands Still, the future doesn’t look good for publishers. However, this time, it isn’t miniscule budgets, but a new crop of “instant gratification” writers that are playing the villain in this war.

Collected Stories focuses on two women, one a seasoned writer with a weighty reputation in the publishing world, and the other a young student with All About Eve intentions. The young writer latches on to her literary hero, ultimately using the mentor up in order to reach her own level of fame. Actress Sarah Paulson plays the seemingly wide-eyed innocent that pleads to work as an assistant to her literary professor, played by Linda Lavin.


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