Hippo Manchester
November 3, 2005

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Theater: A tale of two wives

Milford Area Players take on The Ride Down Mount Morgan

By Michelle Saturley   msaturley@hippopress.com 

How far would a man in the throes of a midlife crisis go to prolong the inevitable? And what happens to people when they realize something they’ve suspected all along — that their entire lives are hanging on a lie?

Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mount Morgan explores these questions exhaustively. The show, presented by Milford Area Players as their inaugural event in the newly renovated Amato Center, is uneven but provides some moments of provocative comedy and high drama.

The play opens in the upstate New York hospital room of Lyman Felt, a middle-aged insurance executive who has crashed his Porsche on a snowy night while driving down Mount Morgan. Nurse Logan rouses Lyman from a quasi-dreamlike state to inform him that his wife and daughter have been notified of the accident and have driven up from the city. This news sends him into a panic, as he imagines the scene in the waiting room, where his wife of 32 years meets his secret wife of nine years.

Of course, Lyman imagines what actually happens — his two wives meet. They couldn’t be any more different. His first wife, Theodora, is a rigid, WASP-y woman, clinging to convention and morality with a white-knuckled death grip. Leah is considerably younger, maybe a couple of years older than Lyman’s daughter, Bessie (who takes the news of her father’s bigamy quite badly). She’s a modern woman in every sense of the word.

Though both women are deeply wounded, they react in different ways. The stoic, tightly wound Theo falls apart at the seams, while the business-savvy, career-oriented Leah consults a lawyer and focuses on protecting the young son she has with Lyman.

Through a series of flashbacks and dreams, we see each woman’s relationship with Lyman, from their point of view and his. The women struggle to pinpoint the exact moment when they knew—deep down – that Lyman was betraying them. Meanwhile, Lyman drifts back and forth between real memories and sexually charged fantasies of both wives co-existing peacefully, sharing household duties such as cooking, cleaning, and sex.

Victor Bennison did an adequate job as Lyman Felt. The role is challenging — he spends most of his time in a hospital bed in a dreamy state of mind, which gives an actor limited choices for energy and movement. The scenes where Bennison was free to roam the stage and interact with the characters were more interesting to watch. Bennison seemed to have some trouble adjusting to the large new venue, and needed to project more.

Stacey Dumont played Leah, the younger wife. She’s an attractive actress and she infused the character with a modern dignity, but there wasn’t much chemistry between her and Bennison. It was difficult to believe she would ever get involved with a man like Lyman.

Giving an impressive debut as Nurse Logan was Milford resident Catherine Kendall. This was apparently Kendall’s first time on a stage, and she looked very comfortable up there. Her character is one of the few voices of reason in the play, watching the events unfold from the outside. She has a few moments of witty banter with Bennison.

Tom Partridge played the rather thankless role of Lyman’s friend and lawyer, Tom Wilson. He is dragged into this whole mess and must serve as a liaison between Lyman and the two women. Partridge does a good job conveying his bewilderment and exhibiting compassion for the two women.

Sally Nutt took on the role of Theo with obvious zeal. This is the kind of role at which Nutt excels, and she did a fine job demonstrating the character’s inner strength. She also handled the character’s unraveling quite well. It’s no accident that the best scenes in the play were the ones between Nutt and Bennison. Their interaction felt the most natural, and her character, who starts out as rather unlikable, becomes the one we feel most sorry for in the end.

Overall, The Ride Down Mount Morgan is an interesting commentary on the conventions of marriage, and the power of the lie. But it is not on par with Miller’s other great works. I can’t help but think that this script was somehow refashioned from an old Neil Simon idea or something.