The Ride Down Mount Morgan
Last month, playwright Arthur Miller passed away at age 89, and the theater world lost an icon. His plays are not only cornerstones of the theater world, but they offer us a glimpse into postwar life in the United States and are a reflection of the social environment that produced them. This month, as a tribute to Miller, Reno Little Theater brings one of his lesser-known plays, The Ride Down Mount Morgan, to The Little Theater at Hug High.
That being said, not everybody loves Miller’s work. Because of their themes, his plays are dark, dreary and downright depressing. Plots involve devastating losses, infidelity, betrayal and even suicide. Reality and dreams, past and present are all intertwined, making the work complicated. Mount Morgan is no exception. It takes great skill to make the play accessible to an audience. Reno Little Theater, under the direction of Doug Mishler, manages to do that.
Lyman Felt, a middle-aged insurance tycoon, has a car accident while driving down the snowy slopes of Mount Morgan. As the play opens, Lyman (Greg Hultquist), lies recovering in a hospital bed. Three women arrive at the hospital: his wife Theodora (Cathy Gabrielli), his daughter Bessie (Shannon Wilson), and his wife Leah (Kristen Davis-Coelho). Yes, that’s right. Two wives. Theodora and Leah discover they’ve been made fools, and for the remainder of the play, a series of flashbacks and dream sequences explain how we got here.
While Mount Morgan is undoubtedly a drama—Miller’s plays are rarely funny—this one offers a few chuckles. My favorite line comes in the beginning of the play. Lyman sits up in his bed, reciting a speech from an insurance conference through his half-conscious fog. “I want you to look at the whole economic system as one enormous tit. The job of the individual is to get a good place in line for a suck. Which gives us the word ‘suckcess.'” Small but great turns of phrase, like this one, are the best parts of this play.
Hultquist’s rendition of Lyman is dead-on; he’s the perfect blend of likable, conniving, romantic and chauvinistic. He’s an adorable jackass. Gabrielli’s Theodora is prim and proper, yet never cold. Theodora is the wife with all the answers; to Lyman, a middle-aged man without any, she’s a comfort and an inspiration. Meanwhile, Leah is an ambitious, exciting, modern woman, which attracts Lyman for completely different reasons. Davis-Coelho’s rendition is mostly enjoyable but at times can be irritating and inauthentic. Shannon Wilson’s version of Bessie is the weakest part of the show; her disappointment in her father comes off as whiny, making it impossible to sympathize with her. Other supporting cast members are Megan Conelly, hilarious as Lyman’s nurse, and Michael Peters, doing a fine job as Lyman’s hand-wringing, overwrought attorney.
It’s ironic that, although Lyman is a lying bigamist, he asks some valid questions: Is betrayal a necessary result of being true to one’s self? Can you truly love more than one person? Can we ever have what we really want? When you see The Ride Down Mount Morgan, you’ll agree what Lyman’s done is awful, but you also might think he makes some sense. That Miller achieves that, and that Reno Little Theater translates it effectively, are admirable feats.