Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Wrong Mountain is a strange play. It has a superb cast of Broadway and Los Angeles actors. It stars the extraordinary Tony winning actor Ron Rifkin and it was directed by Richard Jones who directed the musical Titanic. Written by the talented playwright David Hirson, who wrote La Bete several years ago, it has everything going for it, but somehow it misses the mark as a great play. It most certainly is not as good as La Bete.
Mr. Jones directs this great cast through monstrously intellectual riffs on self-definition, the role of art in society, and whether Broadway musicals are worse than pornography. This is a comedy that singes everyone who loves theater, art, or poetry for that matter.
The play is a simple tale. It is the story of a profoundly obscure poet Henry Dennett. He revels in his own misfortune and rejection and he is scornful of anyone who gains the least bit of public recognition for what they create.
The poet is particularly scornful of successful Broadway playwright Guy Halperin. These two have a barrage of words going from one to the other as the poet relentlessly blasts theater as "bible with pictures" or "a mountain of toxic kitsch". Most of this is directed at the audience.
The poet Henry is particularly dyspeptic since it has been diagnosed that his digestive problems are being caused by a 40 feet worm that inhabits his bowels.
Guy challenges Henry to write a Broadway play of his own. He wants Henry to see how difficult it is to write a play. If the play is produced within 6 months, Henry will receive a $100,000 check from Guy.
Henry writes a play and goes off to a Shakespeare Festival where the play is entered into competition with two other plays. The festival is directed by a run down Shakespearean actor who has seen better days. Finally Henry becomes more human after working with the young actors on his play, and when he wins the competition, the worm in his body disappears. We know that the worm is a metaphor for everything that might be eating away at a middle aged, successful poet. The winning of the prize leaves Henry with the uneasy situation of having his greatest triumph be for something he holds in abject contempt.
As said before, the cast is top drawer. Ron Rifkin plays the poet as pleasant as a mouthful of broken glass. His character is a gleefully villainous character and Mr. Rifkin play the role to the hilt. He becomes more human in the second act. He should be nominated for a Tony in May for his superlative performance. Mr. Rifkin is in every scene and he holds the stage with his performance.
Daniel Davis plays the foppish director of the Shakespeare Festival and in a word, he is a hoot. Davis make Maurice the anti-Dennett, a silly name dropper, who can never get enough of a group hug. He turns this character into an homage to the eccentrics who popular theater at every level. It is good to see Mr. Davis return to the ACT stage after playing the butler role for 6 years in the CBS series "The Nanny".
Almost everyone in the cast is strong, from Larry Pine as Dennett's nemesis to Mary Schmidtberger who plays the loopy young scribe Winifred. Daniel Jenkins is remarkable as the dorky yet idealistic playwright. One of the high spots in the production comes in the second act when a doctor played remarkably by Tom Riis Farrell is examining Henry. The doctor is a Broadway musical aficionado and he breaks out in song by singing and dancing "Broadway Baby". It is hilarious.
The production closed on Sunday and it goes to New York for previews at the Eugene O'Neill Theater next week. I wish it well however it does need trimming since some of the speeches go on much too long.