When Arthur Miller is on the top of his game (Death of a Salesman, All My Sons), there is no American playwright short of Tennessee Williams that can match him. When he stumbles, his failures are fascinating works that look like a child's experiment with playdough' there a lot of interesting elements, but it just doesn't belong in a museum as a work of art. One of Miller's latter plays, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, as currently produced by the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, falls into this latter category.
The play is about Lyman Felts, a successful businessman, who winds up in a hospital after a serious car accident. When he starts to emerge from his unconscious state, he discovers that his life is about to implode in the waiting room. Lyman has two wives and two entirely different lives' both unaware of the other's presence. He married his first wife, Theo, when they were both young and in their early twenties. Though their marriage has been rocky and difficult, they have stayed together for over twenty-five years. His second wife, Leah, met him nine years earlier and became pregnant with Lyman's child. Upon her decision to have an abortion, Lyman reacts spontaneously, promising to marry her and divorce Theo. However, he only followed through on the first part of his promise. For nine years, he split his life between Theo and their grown daughter, and Leah and their young son, Ben. It's only his accident that forces the two halves of his life to collide, upsetting the balance of everyone's world.
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan wants to be a treatise on the modern state of marriage, but seems unable to determine what it really wants to say. At one moment, it pretends to advocate the necessity and difficulty of marriage, but in the next scene the playwright seems to contend that all relationships' marriages or not' are ultimately futile and meaningless. The play purports to have new and interesting things to say about contemporary marriages, but in actuality says nothing that writers haven't been saying for years already. Marriage is hard. Marriage is difficult. A major part of life comes from sublimating your individual happiness to the collective good of those whom you love. This final thought is the closest Miller comes to a profound notion, but he doesn't adequately develop any notion of what this means in contemporary times and how it affects who we become as individuals.
Director Heidi Helen Davis proves adept at balancing the shifting tones of the play' bouncing back and forth between humor, high drama, and pathos. While Miller's text is overly long and redundant, Davis manages to keep this production moving at a quick clip. Despite a few directorial missteps (the dream dancers?!) Davis puts the best possible shine on the production' if only the actors were as well polished. Many of the cast still seem unsure of their characters and lines, traipsing through the play, hesitantly moving from line to line. The most effective performance comes from Melora Marshall in the role of Leah. She brings a confident vulnerability to Lyman's second wife that gives her scenes a vitality and energy that mesmerize and captivate.
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan continues playing in repertory at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga through October 2. For tickets, call (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com.