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Wednesday, 22 January 2014 22:23

Lyman's wild ride is one heck of an emotional rollercoaster

Written by Tina Farmer
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The Details

L-R: Julie Layton, John Pierson, Amy Loui
L-R: Julie Layton, John Pierson, Amy Loui

Fans of playwright Arthur Miller are lucky to have several productions currently on St. Louis stages. St. Louis Actors' Studio stands out with "The Ride Down Mount Morgan." The tightly wound, well acted production envelopes the audience in the small theater, delivering a memorable version of a beautifully crafted drama. 

One of Miller's less frequently produced shows, the story reminds us that the lies we weave are bound to come unwound at the most inconvenient of times. In the case of Lyman, this happens when he has a severe car accident and both his wives show up at the hospital. That's two wives, the first unaware of the second and the second believing her husband was divorced from the first. With a summary like that, and a playwright like Miller, you know this is going to be one ride to remember.

The company makes excellent use of its limited space, staging the show in a way that feels intimate and intense. Scenes are played on various levels and lighting cues and quick costume changes are used to move the audience through the story, including providing a number of salacious details and a few laugh out loud moments. Technical director GP Hunsaker, scene designer Cristie Johnston, lighting designer Bess Moynihan, and costume designer Teresa Doggett are all in sync with director Bobby Miller. All the technical touches add to the rich tale the story weaves.

The smartly delivered dialogue, seamless transitions and layered acting, directed with an excellent sense of timing by Miller, keeps building the story. We are treated to a sometimes humorous and consistently entertaining view as Lyman's happy, if duplicitous, life unravels before his eyes. There's a delicious sense of schadenfreude in the sub context of the play, even though Lyman, particularly as played by John Pierson, comes across as a really likeable guy -- a man with a heart too big for convention.

Pierson is convincingly flattering, manipulative and self-delusional as Lyman, watching him rationalize his behavior is a treat. Amy Loui, as first wife Theo, and Julie Layton, as second wife Leah, match him in energy, emotional fluctuations, and wordplay. All three of the characters rationalize their comfortable position as they struggle to adjust to a very uncomfortable truth.

Loui is upright, proper and very much in control, and the more she strives to remain in control the more interesting her character becomes. Layton, in contrast, shows an impulsive drive and a real desire to go back to believing the lies she already suspected. The two women complement each other well on stage, creating an added layer of tension that works fantastically within the story.

Fannie Leahy, as the Nurse, offers comical commentary and helps to provide a sense of balance between the show's many flashback scenes and its current setting. Leahy's nurse is at times disinterested, but ultimately shows a caring, sensitive and, perhaps most importantly, non-judgmental nature that wraps the show up nicely. Taylor Steward, as daughter Bessie, and Eric Dean White, as lawyer and friend Tom, also turn in genuine performances that mesh perfectly with the main characters.

Arthur Miller's "The Ride Down Mount Morgan" is a wise choice for theatergoers interested in seeing an excellent performance of a seldom seen play by an icon of American theater. The show runs through February 2, 2014 at the St. Louis Actors' Studio space in The Gaslight Theater. For more information, visit www.stlas.org.
 

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