Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Thought provoking production of Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mount Morgan
Arthur Miller, better known as a great dramatist, wrote an entertaining comedy in 1991. Rather than presenting the new work in the United States, he opened the play at Wyndham's Theatre in London starring Tom Conti and Gemma Jones. I was at the open night and had a chance to talk to Mr. Miller. He preferred opening his new plays in the U.K. since he felt British audiences were more receptive to his work.
The Ride Down Mount Morgan took seven years to reach our shores and was completely revised to suit American tastes. There was more comedy in the revision and the lead actor, who had spent most of his time as an accident victim in bed, was now allowed to get up from his bed to play in fantasy scenes. The revised production opened in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It finally reached New York on March 21, 2000 where it played only 121 performances at the Ambassador Theatre, with Patrick Stewart, Frances Conroy and Shannon Burkett. The comedy received mixed reviews and Patrick Stewart was overlooked for a Tony nomination in 2000. He publicly chastised the producers for insufficiently promoting the play.
Many regional companies have picked up the comedy since it is an 'Arthur Miller' piece and has only six characters and very little scenery. Most companies play it as broad comedy rather than a dramatic piece.
Lyman Felt (Victor Talmadge), a successful New York insurance tycoon, has had a serious car accident, sliding down an icy road that was closed because of danger. He finds himself in a hospital bed suffering from multiple injuries; he is wrapped in bandages and writhing from drugged hallucinations. The hospital has notified his wife of thirty-seven years, Theo (Karen Grasse), and their daughter Bessie (Kristin Stokes) of the accident. The hospital has also notified his new wife of nine years (without benefit of a divorce from the other one) Leah (Nancy Carlin). Theo is shocked when she discovers Lyman's other life in up state New York while Leah believes that Lyman had legally divorced the first wife. There are animated confrontations between the two wives and a lively war of words between Lyman and his wives.
Lyman actually does not think he has done wrong since he has made each woman happy. He is an out and out womanizer, and sees each new woman as "an undiscovered shore." He believes living part time with his new and younger wife in upstate New York is a relief from the boredom of his 37-year-old marriage with perfect Wasp wife Theo in the upper 50s in Manhattan.
Joy Carlin has assembled a first rate cast to perform in this philosophical comedy. Each scene is smoothly presented. Victor Talmadge (Brooklyn Boy at TheatreWorks, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure at the Pasadena Playhouse) is excellent as Lyman, a man who has suppressed his conscience. He might be a shameful man, but he really loves both of his wives and believes he has given each of them a happy and fulfilled life. You really can't hate him.
Karen Grasse (TV's Little House on the Prairie) is enchantingly radiant as Theo. Grasse gives a polished performance and delivers some of the playwright's best dialogue brilliantly. Kristin Stokes (Brooklyn Boy, john & jen) ably plays daughter Bessie.
Nancy Carlin (Nicholas Nickleby, The Immigrants) gives an invigorating performance as the younger wife Leah. She plays the character as a "street wise" modern and vivacious businesswoman. Keith Burkland (appeared in four prior productions with SF Playhouse) as Lyman's stoic lawyer and confidante is splendid as he shuttles uncomplainingly between the two warring wives. Marjorie Crump-Shears (many productions over a 30-year career) is marvelous as Nurse Logan. She knows how to handle the patient and also gets some laughs.
Bill English has designed a set of suitable natural panels to allow the characters time and space to move on the small stage. Lighting by Jim Cave is creative to represent a hospital room.
The Ride Down Mount Morgan runs through November 4th at the company's new location at 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets call the box office at 415-677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org, TicketWeb.com or the TIX box office on Union Square.
Their next production is Craig Lucas's Reckless opening November 18th