The Ride Down Mount Morgan

One of Arthur Miller's intentions when he wrote The Ride Down Mount Morgan was to capture the gist of the Reagan-era "Me Generation" of the '80's, and Lyman Felt, the insurance magnate at the heart of this dark comedy, is all of that.

But in staging this drama to christen the new John Hand Theater, the Firehouse Theater Company and director Christopher Leo have elucidated issues raised by the playwright that go far beyond America's obsession with sexual gratification and material accumulation, beyond instinct and ego to the moral questions that define the human condition.

Photo of Deborah Persoff (Theo) and Jeffrey Atherton (Lyman)
Deborah Persoff (Theo)
and Jeffrey Atherton (Lyman)
Photo: Brian Miller
From the moment Lyman emerges from his post-anesthetic haze in the hospital in the first scene of the play and finds that the well-crafted deceptions of his entire adult life have come crashing down, until the bittersweet tragic tableau of the final scene where he steadfastly continues to justify his bigamous behavior, it appears easy to write him off as a selfish man—and many theatregoers and critics have done so.

Yet the venerable Miller did not become dean of American playwrights by telegraphing his messages. Instead, he asks us to look beyond the obvious, not only to the condition of the participants before the painful truth of Lyman's bigamy is discovered, but to Lyman's intent as well. While this may be no easy reach for many, there is sufficient, if not ample, scientific and ethical basis for Lyman's argument.

Jeffrey Atherton, fresh from his success as Diego Rivera in Painted Bread, and himself a large man, slides easily into Lyman's grand appetite for all that life offers. More problematic for Atherton are the select moments when Felt shows his vulnerability and contriteness.

Deborah Persoff is Theodora, Lyman's formal, snobbish, Episcopal wife, who is shaken to the core by the discovery of her husband's secret life. Persoff incrementally reveals Theo's slow descent into a world where the values she's developed over a lifetime are stripped away by the revelations that follow Lyman's automobile accident on the Mt. Morgan road.

Photo of Kendra Crain-McGovern (Leah) and Jeffrey Atherton (Lyman)
Kendra Crain-McGovern (Leah)
and Jeffrey Atherton (Lyman)
Photo: Brian Miller
The catalyst for Theo's disintegration is the vivacious, outspoken Leah, Lyman's other wife. In a role finally equal to her talent, Kendra Crain-McGovern seizes the emotional initiative of the story, making Leah the driving force behind Lyman's escalating lies and unrelenting passion.

Director Leo makes efficient use of the space and set, and with lighting designer Brian Miller, facilitates the playwright's liberated chronology with seamless shifts from flashback to fast forward.

Yet the overarching star of the show is the octogenarian Miller, who remains as brutally honest as ever, following the logical imperatives of his characters until our basic moral assumptions about personal and societal behavior are called into question. Even the most challenging moments of the story, where the script's extended philosophical ruminations test the most tenacious of thinkers, hang together in classical fashion.

What is most striking, however, about this work is the humor and stream of consciousness that Miller has found in his advanced years, making The Ride Down Mount Morgan not only a compelling drama, but also another milestone in a brilliant career.

The Firehouse Theater Company's production of The Ride Down Mount Morgan runs through November 13th. 303.562.3232.

Bob Bows


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