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A CurtainUp Review
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan

Check out the heading AGE or AGING in any quotation book and you'll find a strong accent on the negative: "My days are in the yellow leaf" (Byron), "I am declined into a vale of years," (Shakespeare's Othello), "An Aged Man is but a paltry thing,/A tattered coat upon a stick..."(Yeats). Then go to see The Ride Down Mount Morgan which is currently making its American debut at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and which adds another jewel to the crown worn by the 80-year-old dean of the American theater. There's nothing tattered or worn about Miller's work. Unlike the plays set in the period of his youth The Ride Down Mount Morgan takes place in the Reagan 80's. Not quite Now to be sure, but then its freshness lies as much in the style and in the playwright's leap into the realm of fantasy and humor as the time frame.. The result is a play that's a thought-provoking drama and, new for Miller, a thoroughly entertaining comedy.

Like Miller's other plays, The Ride Down Mount Morgan explores themes that are at once deeply personal and entirely universal: the complex issues of relationships, the cause and effect of our actions and the ways we deal with our dreams, our demons and our disillusionments. Yet, while the themes are familiar, the new play moves along on a stream bubbling with laughter. The protagonist, Lyman, is a man faced with the consequences of a life of extravagant self-indulgence whose latest act of imprudence--riding his car down an icy mountain road--brings his world of deception tumbling around his hospital bed. From the moment Lyman, immobilized on a hospital bed, is wheeled onto the bare stage, we start to suspect the Mt. Morgan Road just happens to be one of many wrong roads he has taken to assuage his voracious appetite for money and sex. His first words turn out to be the credo that steers him from the cradle to the car crash down Mt. Morgan Road: "Life is one big tit to suck on." The follow-up musing about the possible connection between the words suck and success establish the playful mood that permeates the proceedings.

The audience becomes involved in the story through many short scenes that move in and out of dream and reality, backward and forward in time. The constantly shifting viewpoints remove and reveal the layers underneath the initial facade presented by the various players in Lyman's life.

The dialogue is witty and incisive, the cast top notch. F. Murray Abraham is terrific as a man with an underactive conscience, who, as he approaches the age of midlife Angst, pushes the already extended envelope of his life harder and harder. He has done many things that would weigh on the conscience of anyone lacking his gift for self-justification. Though he has apparently put the partner in his successful insurance business behind bars, he feels that "deep down we're still friends." He sees each new woman as "an undiscovered shore" and a surcease from boredom with his 32-year-old marriage--a boredom he defines as a "form of deception."

Michael Learned as the wife he deceives is the perfect Wasp--polished, removed--and needy. She lets us practically taste her "incurable Protestant cooking" and feel the tightly wound coil that holds her together snap. She tosses out wry lines like "Why does anyone stay together once they realize who they're with?" as easily as she discards her mink in the priceless bathing suit and "Playboy Bunny" scenes. Patricia Clarkson as the Lyman's "other wife" Leah is a wonderfully atypical, big-hair blonde who prompts Lyman to risk becoming a bigamist because he can't do without her, though he also can't do without his legal wife. She's a savvy modern woman, not much older than Lyman's daughter (a rather thankless part ably handled by Amy Ryan). When she becomes pregant, however, she's not savvy enough to see through Lyman's lie when he promises to marry her if she'll have the baby. Thus we have two Mrs. Felts who are as unalike as their mink coats are alike.

Larry Bryggman as Lyman's lawyer and confidante shuttles patiently between the story's warring factions. He is a man of conscience serving a man who will stop at nothing to have everything and thereby disprove his father's declaration that quot;it's all nothing." This is summed up in his declaration that "maybe all one can hope is that one ends up with the right regrets." though as Lyman sees it Tom's regret is likely to be for having done the right rather than the pleasurable thing.

Not the least of this philosophical comedy's satisfactions are attributable to the director Scott Ellis and his creative team. Derek McLane's minimal sets create just the right theatrical environment and Brian MacDevitt's lighting deftly expresses the changing moods. As for Tom Kochan's incidental music--I hope that it too will one day hold center stage at a Tanglewood concert, as the incidental music from Miller's The Shattered Glass did just a couple of weeks ago.

To give theater goers a chance to compare the similarities and changes in Miller's overall oeuvre, the Williamstown Theatre Festival scheduled this play to run in tandem with his first successful play All My Sons. What a good idea! And what a shame, that the runs aren't long enough to give everyone a chance to see at least one of the plays.

For a look at a different but equally admirable creative artist's work, be sure to go to Williamstown early enough to take in the exquisite "Seaforms" exhibit of America's master glass artist Dale Chihuly. Its upstairs at the Williams College Museum.

The Ride Down Mount Morgan
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Scott Ellis
Starring F. Murray Abraham
With Michael Learned, Patricia Clarkson, Larry Bryggman, Amy Ryan
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Williamstown, MA (413)-597-3400
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
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