Review: `The Ride Down Mount Morgan’

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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 21, 2000. All rights reserved.

On Broadway: `The Real Thing’


I saw Tom Stoppard’s "The Real Thing," under

the direction of Mike Nichols, twice on Broadway in 1984: The first

time with a cast that included Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Christine

Baranski, Kenneth Walsh, and Peter Gallagher, and later that season

with John Vickery, Caroline Lagerfelt, Simon Jones, and Anthony Fusco.

For reasons unclear, the memory of both is sufficiently gone for me

to approach the striking and spare Donmar Warehouse production as

if it were totally new. There is something to be said for a plot so

cleverly contrived and convoluted that it has the ability to unravel

into the ether of time and forgetfulness. Recently the recipient of

Tony awards for its two stars Stephen Dillane and Jennifer Ehle, "The

Real Thing" is, perhaps as a result of my own maturation, a better

play than I first believed it to be.

Henry, the playwright hero of "The Real Thing," is a successful

writer of romantic comedies. His own personal real life escapades

are alluded to in a scene from one of his frothy comedies that serves

as a prologue to the play proper. Stoppard, the playwright, uses this

"play before the play" device to parallel both his protagonist’s

trap in creating a romantic comedy that his audience might find amusing,

as well as the necessity of real people to embroider life, i.e. "The

Real Thing," with as much theatricality and complexity as their

own credibility can muster.

Stoppard’s counterpoint illusion of theatrical conceits vs. life’s

more hard-edged and dangerous struggles with fidelity and truth has

a lot going for it. The dialogue, both in the hilariously superficial

prologue and the body of the play, is Stoppard ("Rosencrantz and

Guildenstern are Dead," "Travesties," "Arcadia")

at his most dazzling. Words, epithets, and metaphors hurtle, cascade,

and bombard us into distraction. Under David Leveaux’s brisk direction,

an extraordinary cast gives a wealth of multi-leveled performances.

Except for watching the actors become furniture movers to give designer

Vicki Mortimer’s settings their mobility, I enjoyed this intellectually

mobile play more than ever.

In the prologue, a scene from Henry’s play, "House of Cards,"

a wife is discovered to be unfaithful by a husband who finds her passport

has been left at home when she supposedly went off to Switzerland.

The unseen lover, presumably the author, is immediately encountered

in Scene II married to the cheating actress in his play. Only this

time Henry (played with irrepressibly arrogant charm by Dillane) is

having a tryst with the cuckolded actor-husband’s (of Scene I) wife,

Annie (Ehle). Neither Henry’s wife, Charlotte (Sarah Woodward), nor

Annie’ husband Max (Nigel Lindsay) is as immediately aware of their

spouses’ affair as they are of Annie’s current secondary interest

in rescuing a political activist from prison. Amidst niceties and

crudities, the affair is eventually exposed and four lives are rearranged.

Now married, Henry, a strict constructionist when it comes to marriage,

love, and use of words, and Annie, a free-spirited liberal whose marital

commitments need constant reinforcing, become embroiled in another

escapade. Annie has recruited Henry to change and polish her anarchist

friend Brodie’s (Joshua Henderson) awful play. While performing it

she has a dalliance with the young leading man (Oscar Pearce). The

emotional traumas and unsettling of their relationship force them

into redefining their love as "the real thing." If Stoppard’s

exploration of fictional stage life, theatricalized real life, and

love is intentionally dense, it is also emphatically glib. While all

the actors wend their way through the author’s brittle and erudite

ideas about commitment, conscience, and infidelity, Ehle (the daughter

of actress Rosemary Harris) brings to the play a spunk and radiance

that lifts the play’s world weary, if demonstrably witty, resonance.


— Simon Saltzman

The Real Thing, Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47 Street,

New York, 800-432-7250. $30 to $70.

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Review: `The Ride Down Mount Morgan’

A lot of press has been focused on Patrick Stewart, star of "The

Ride Down Mount 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 Mount 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 Mount 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 Mount 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.

Top Of Page
Ticket Numbers

Unless otherwise 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.

For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,

and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing

arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS same-day,

half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47th) is open

daily, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

for Wednesday and Saturday matinees; and 11 a.m. to closing for Sunday

matinees. The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade

Center, is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday

from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Matinee tickets are sold at this location

on the day prior to performance. Cash or travelers’ checks only; no

credit cards. Visit TKTS at:

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