Newsday, 25 Jul 1996.
"Miller's Ride Through a Double Life"
by Leo Seligsohn.
THE RIDE DOWN MT. MORGAN. U.S. premiere of Arthur Miller drama about impact of a well-heeled bigamist's double life. Reworked from original London production 5 years ago. With F. Murray Abraham, Michael Learned, Adina Porter, Ben Hammer, Amy Ryan, Patricia Clarkson, Larry Bryggman. Directed by Scott Elliot. At the Williamstown (Mass.) Theater Festival through Sunday. Seen at Saturday's matinee.
Arthur Miller's best plays are emotionally powerful, intellectually forceful journeys into the uncharted byways of human frailty. "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan," making its U.S. debut this week at the Williamstown Theater Festival, has the intellectual force of those earlier plays but runs out of emotional power long before the ride is over.
Something of a tragicomic polemic on the evils of a self-indulgent, self-justifying American in the 1980's--though it could be today as well--"Morgan" focuses on a lying bigamist, aptly named Lyman. As the play begins, his secret double life--two wives and a child by each--is unraveling. An automobile accident on nearby Mt. Morgan has put him in the hospital and when the unsuspecting women arrive, both wearing identical mink coats given to them by their husband, 60-year-old Lyman knows his ruse is over.
For the rest of the evening, a first-rate cast headed by F. Murray Abraham as Lyman and Michael Learned as his first wife, navigate "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan," detouring frequently between the present and past. We learn rather quickly, for example, that, in an apparent effort to save his own skin, rich Lyman once helped send his business partner to jail and that, of his many sexual peccadillos, the one with a sexy, 35-year-old colleague named Leah (Patricia Clarkson) led to bigamy.
Lyman is not a man who ever thinks he has done anything wrong. Confronted by two devastated women and a fuming grown daughter (Amy Ryan), Lyman knows only self-pity. "I was risking everything to find myself," he whines. His me-generation credo is that living one's feelings to the hilt is the equivalent of honesty. All else is hypocrisy. As his exasperated friend, lawyer Tom (Larry Bryggman), puts it: "Lyman is an endless string attached to nothing." This is a statement that, in a way, points up the play's weakness;
Lyman is a cipher. He has none of the conflicted qualities that would make him a more complex and, therefore, interesting person. Nevertheless, Abraham invests Lyman with aggressive charm. Bloated with self-delusion and glowing with charisma, his Lyman is a man everybody likes and women go for. Yet, he cannot comprehend the pain he inflicts. For him, his transgressions are merely the capers of a mischievous fellow no one seems to understand.
In the role of his long-suffering wife Theodora, Learned is wonderful, as a supportive woman turned wretched and half mad, not knowing where or how to vent her fury. As Leah, Lyman's sexy little playmate wife, Clarkson is equally outstanding as is Ryan as the
daughter and Bryggman as Tom.
A mysterious and somewhat superfluous character who roams through Lyman's memories in flashbacks is his father (Ben Hammer), an immigrant storekeeper constantly critical of his son. It is an attempt perhaps to explain the shaping or, rather, misshaping, of Lyman's character, but the appearances are more intrusive than illuminating.
Under Scott Elliot's direction, the play moves briskly from a dramatic opening, in which Lyman's crashing car doubles momentarily as the hospital bed, to an equally dramatic but solemn ending. Derek McLane's stark white set reflects both the icy locale of Mt. Morgan and, the sterile environs of the hospital where Lyman spends much of the show in bed, facing us, arms in casts and thrust forward as though manacled to nothingness. Bluesy, transitional music was composed by Tom Kochan.
A final thought: Like Miller's Willy Loman (in "Death of a Salesman"), Lyman is blind to the truth about himself and the world. If a tiny bit of the resonance that gave Loman such tragic grandeur could have rubbed off onto this play and into the soul of its central character, what a different ride this might have been.