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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’

E-mail: SimonSaltzman@princetoninfo.com

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

indefensible behavior.

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

The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, Ambassador Theater, 219 West

49 Street, New York, 800-432-7250. $55 & $65.

Unless noted, all Broadway and Off-Broadway reservations can

be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Other ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200; Ticketmaster,

800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.


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