Lyman Felt, the bedridden antihero of Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mount Morgan, lives with a dirty little secret. By the standards of the kinky husbands in recent stage plays, Lyman's peccadilloes are fairly tame. He's nowhere in the league of, say, the spouse in Edward Albee's The Goat, who trysted with the title barnyard animal, or the guy in David Lindsey-Abaire's Wonder of the World, who got his jollies by swallowing -- and passing -- Barbie doll heads.
Lyman's bigamy comes closer to "normal" sexual relations, only raised to the power of two. In The Ride Down Mount Morgan, Lyman suffers a car accident that brings together his two wives, each unaware of their husband's marital arrangement. In his hospital room, Lyman drifts in and out of consciousness until his memories, fantasies and present-day experiences reveal the existential angst that underpinned his double life. Miller's juicy premise never finds its comfort level between comedy and tragedy, though, and Jewish Theatre of the South's production manages to seduce the audience, then leave it unsatisfied.
We're not sure if it's reality or just a figment of Lyman's imagination when his concerned first wife, Theo (Karen Howell), and his grown daughter (Claire Christie) unwittingly share a waiting room with his second wife, Leah (Stacy Melich). Miller finds plenty of humor as each woman realizes that they're visiting an injured husband -- and he's the same man. The wives and Theo's lawyer (Barry Stoltze) untangle the truth: that Lyman married his mistress Leah when she got pregnant, and told her he had divorced his first wife. Instead, he maintained households in two cities over nine years, raising a son with the younger woman.
Though badly injured in the car wreck (which may not have been an accident), Lyman leaps up to pace his hospital room for flashbacks. Kayser infuses Lyman with the vigor and confidence of one of those celebrity CEOs who parachutes over big cities. Lyman shows no shortage of feelings, exuding confidence in his early, seductive scenes with Leah. But Lyman's runaway emotions lack a moral compass, so he swings from agonies of remorse to shameless self-justification: "How much have you really suffered?" he asks both wives.
In the play, the case of Lyman's two wives becomes a media sensation, but Miller sees it as more than just a tabloid headline. Miller spent much of his long career writing in the shadow of Death of a Salesman and his other early successes (the new Library of America edition of his plays spans 1944-1961, even though he wrote virtually up to his death in 2005). In The Ride Down Mount Morgan, which premiered in 1991, Miller leaves clues that he's deliberately turning Death of a Salesman on its head.
The early play looked at a kind of bottom-up view of the American dream, with Willy Loman, a "low man," trying and failing to achieve professional and domestic success. The Ride Down Mount Morgan takes a top-down perspective as Lyman -- a "lie-man" -- has wealth and a happy family life but cannot slake his appetite for more. Adultery proves the undoing for both men, but it takes a spectacular transgression to bring Lyman down.
Bigamy provides a case study for a male's divided nature. After marrying Leah, Lyman faces longtime phobias (like flying), actions that Theo can't reconcile with "her" husband. His wives embody two kinds of femininity: Theo, a minister's daughter, is a 1950s-style, sexually inexperienced domestic goddess, while Leah, an aggressive businesswoman, lives up to a 1970s you-can-have-it-all notion of womanhood. In Lyman's fantasies, his two-woman "harem" competes for his affections in both the kitchen and bedroom.
It's hard to tell just how much Miller buys into Lyman's self-aggrandizing B.S. The character shows a hunger for life comparable to the protagonists of Saul Bellow novels (Lyman's epiphany while facing a lion on an African safari evokes Henderson the Rain King). But the play also equates an overactive libido with being a "life force," when it could be just a conventional midlife crisis, only drawn out over nine years and two cities. With long, weird speeches about symbolic caves and ancient fossils, Miller seems to be inflating Lyman's petty, selfish behavior into something greater than it is. A shrillness enters into Kayser's reading of Lyman's most heated speeches, reducing Lyman's stature as a dramatic protagonist.
Directed by Matt Huff, Jewish Theatre of the South dutifully portrays Miller's drama, even though the production could benefit from a quicker pace and more humor -- the plot is half-way to a Neil Simon story already. Melich gives Leah plenty of sensual snap, while Christie, as his heartbroken, unforgiving daughter, could speak for Lyman's guilty conscience, if he had one. Howell, however, seems locked into her role's frigid victimhood.
Miller died in February 2005 at the age of 89, but no one would choose The Ride Down Mount Morgan as his epitaph. It shows more energy and freshness than some of his other late-career works like Broken Glass, but you never share Miller's intellectual fascination with Lyman. He's a commanding figure, but a low man, indeed.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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