Monday, January 20, 2014

THE RIDE DOWN MOUNT MORGAN • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Arthur Miller is considered one of America's greatest playwrights, giving us "All My Sons", "Death of a Salesman", "An Enemy of the People", "The Crucible", "A View from the Bridge" and "The Price", among many others.  He wrote this play when he was in his seventies, and while the central character of his 1991 comedic drama, Lyman Felt, is a charming, sexually robust, wealthy insurance executive in his fifties, he's also a racist, selfish, arrogant douchebag.  After waking up in a hospital bed, nearly dead from crashing his car on an icy mountain road, Lyman is terrified to hear the news that a "Mrs. Felt" is in the waiting room.  Oh, did I mention? -- he's also a bigamist with currently two possible Mrs. Felts.  That's the premise that kicks off this strong production from St. Louis Actors' Studio that fits nicely within its "Sins of the Father" season.

Lyman (John Pierson) has been living the high-life for quite some time, but his bigamy is laid bare when Theodora (Amy Loui), his conventional, steadfast wife of over thirty years (ahem, long fur coat) meets Leah (Julie Layton), his younger, racier, trophy wife of nine years (ahem, slightly shorter "less expensive" looking fur coat), in the waiting room of Clearhaven Memorial Hospital in Elmira, New York.

John Pierson (Lyman), Julie Layton (Leah),
Taylor Steward (Bessie),
Eric Dean White (Tom) and Amy Loui (Theo).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Along with the inevitable bedside confrontations with each wife, Lyman's heavily medicated mind gives us non-linear flashbacks where we learn how he has been splitting his time between Theo and their daughter Bessie (Taylor Steward) in New York City, and Elmira NY, where he married the saucy work associate he couldn't resist, sowing his wild oats and fathering a son.  The initial vows he made to Leah to divorce his first wife fell by the wayside once Lyman's indulgence urged him to take a crack at having it all, bold enough to even take Leah to New York City right under the nose of Theo and their daughter.  While the wives adjust to what's been going on for so long, the truth also shocks Lyman's longtime friend and lawyer Tom, (Eric Dean White), who tries to keep the bad press that's been generated at bay.  Being a man who believes that "the first rule of life is betrayal", Lyman's self-justifications throughout are predictably, grossly, and comedically boundless.  He's a man incapable of connecting his actions to the emotional harm he's done to the ones he claims to love most, even believing he can actually convince at least one of his wives to take him back.

Julie Layton (Leah), John Pierson (Lyman)
and Amy Loui (Theo).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This play may not reach to the probing depths of "Death of a Salesman" or "The Crucible", but director Bobby Miller and assistant director, Aaron Orion Baker elevate it, keeping the momentum going and striking a good balance among their talented cast.  Insights into the "why" of what Lyman did don't drill too far past his magnificent sense of entitlement, but Pierson is able to make this rather unlikable character interesting to watch.  His bombast is so fully committed that there are times when his convictions almost demand admiration.  As messed up as that is.  Loui and Layton also give fully realized characterizations of the wives.  Loui's Theo is just detached enough to be able to fail to recognize any signs, but gets rewardingly fierce in the second act.  Layton's Leah is optimistically carefree enough to take Lyman at his word, but absolutely heartbroken when she learns that he never got divorced.  White does a good job with the role of Tom, not quite able to wrap his mind around his friend's actions, along with Steward as the unforgiving Bessie and Fannie Lebby as Lyman's nurse, who gets the biggest laugh in the show.

Cristie Johnston's simple scenic design uses different levels of platforms for specific locations with Bess Moynihan's lighting design highlighting the movement of the shifting action on stage and providing thick shadows for Lyman's hospital bed.  Bobby Miller also handles the sound design duties capably, with musical interludes of "You are so beautiful" and "You Made Me Love You", with Teresa Doggett providing the costume design that subtly informs the players.

Check it out for some strong performances, and the chance to see one of Arthur Miller's lesser known plays.  It's onstage until the 2nd.

John Pierson (Lyman) and Fannie Lebby (Nurse).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Bobby Miller
Asst. Director, Aaron Orion Baker
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through February 2 | tickets: $30.25 - $35.25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

John Pierson* (Lyman), Amy Loui* (Theo) Julie Layton (Leah), Taylor Steward (Bessie), Eric Dean White (Tom) and Fannie Lebby (Nurse).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Cristie Johnston; lighting design by Bess Moynihan; costume design by Teresa Doggett; sound design by Bobby Miller; props design by Carla Evans; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

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