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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 5, 2000. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `Ride Down Mt. Morgan’
A lot of press has been focused on Patrick Stewart,
star of "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan," and his now infamous curtain
speech in which he accused the producers of not properly supporting
and promoting the Arthur Miller play. Stewart has been officially
reprimanded for what the producers felt was unwarranted criticism;
he was also required to make a formal apology to the producers by
an Actors Equity advisory board. Interestingly, the dramatic, professional,
and personal implications of this action — as well as how it impacts
on the actor’s career — unwittingly correspond with the action
and consequences of the play’s central character.
"The Ride Down Mt. Morgan," which had its premiere in London
in 1991, its American debut in 1996 at the Williamstown Festival,
and opened at the Public Theater in 1998 to decidedly mixed reviews,
has now taken the ride up to Broadway. The play continues to reverberate
as one man’s long-winded defense of his outrageously selfish and downright
Miller takes us back to salesman territory with the play’s protagonist
Lyman Felt, a hugely successful insurance salesman. Lyman is so successful
that he can justify, at least to himself, if not to us, being married
to two women, and having two different families to love and support,
one in the city, the other in the country. Whereas that other salesman
Willy Loman’s (in "Death of a Salesman") life disintegrates
when he becomes dispensable by the firm that he has worked for all
his life, Lyman’s life, empowered by personal success, is shown crumbling
under the weight of his super ego and the inevitable response of the
wives when they discover his deception. This, despite his proclaimed
devotion to each family. In so much as Lyman has recklessly and heedlessly
manipulated those he presumes to love while gratifying himself with
the sexual diversity that he craves, gives his bid for bigamy and
split familial responsibilities its provocative twists.
Neither the wives nor the children know of the existence of the other
until Lyman ends up in a hospital bed after he totals his Porsche
on the icy side of Mt. Morgan. While in a semi-conscious state, Lyman
is told by his nurse (Oni Faida Lampley) that his wife has been told
of the accident. In his stupor, Lyman begins to imagine the confrontation
between Theo (Francis Conroy), his WASP Manhattan wife, and Leah (Katy
Selverstone), his younger, Jewish wife from Upstate New York. His
nightmare becomes real, when Theo arrives with their teenage daughter
(Shannon Burkett) to find Leah there in equal disbelief. Leah has
left their young son Ben at home.
Not only is Lyman, who is barely conscious, suddenly
the object of his wives’ and his daughter’s vehement outrage and hurt,
but he is hounded by the press and the voiced dismay of his lawyer
(John C. Vennema). As Lyman responds to the wives, as they each stake
out a blistering offense to his blithering defense, the play revisits
the past and the critical, life-altering moments that have brought
him to this point of no return.
Although Miller’s premise is interesting to the point of redundancy,
there is something very unsettling and unnerving about the play and
its protagonist. Perhaps it is partly the fault of designer John Arnone’s
dream-like — make that nightmarish — setting, that includes
some impressively hallucinatory effects, as well as director David
Esbjornson’s overtly competitive and gimmicky staging of the play
that is distancing and distracting. The bellowing protestations and
justifying excuses and explanations of a man convinced that his actions
have not actually harmed anyone might have had more potency in a less
surreal frame. Of this I’m not absolutely sure. But listening to Stewart
somewhat childishly ranting from his hospital bed (that has shown
a propensity to fly), as his past and present become a collage of
collective disingenuous charms and insecurities. That we are meant
to understand, if not empathize with, the ultimate revelation (that
I will not disclose) offers little in the way of compensation for
the hours of one man’s whining as others whittle away at his flaws.
Miller’s theme, which deals with the justification of a moral double-standard,
and the integrity of Lyman’s self-deluding grasp at immortality through
his life with two families, has sparks of psychological profundity.
But Stewart’s performance, notwithstanding his innate attractiveness,
is mainly affected rather than affecting, abrasive in tone and temperament,
and without the sensuality that made his Prospero in "The Tempest"
so uniquely charismatic and dynamic. In support, Tony-nominated Conroy
gets the closest to genuine emotions in the role of Theo, whose composure
under stress is both funny and poignant. Selverstone, as Leah, and
Burkett, as the daughter, vent their anger and outrage without making
us believe in them for a second. For that matter, it’s the not believing
in any of it that makes "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan" such an
uncomfortable ride. HH
— Simon Saltzman
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