“Do you hate me?” our lead asks at the end of this production. He is met with the response “I don’t know. I have to think about it.” The Ride Down Mount Morgan at Westminster College certainly made me think about it and a lot of others things.
The show opens with a captivating and well staged car accident involving the lead character Lyman Felt (Paul Burgess). Within the first scene, we find Felt hospitalized and his two wives (Mandi Titcomb and Sahara Hayes) arriving at his bedside. Unfortunately for Felt, until this chance meeting, neither wife was aware of the other. An exploration of his relationship with these two different women and his views (unclear if they are justification or belief) on monogamy and marriage ensue.
I’m not sure why I expected a comedy or farce walking into this show, but was surprised with a very thought provoking and engaging evening. The show does an excellent job of not choosing sides, rather tells a story and lets the audience arrive at their own opinion. And from the reactions of my theater going partners, that opinion can vary greatly.
Arthur Miller raised some excellent questions, even though his characters felt cliché and tired. We have the fast talking insurance sales man with the prim and proper house wife on one side and the young, attractive and independent second wife on the other side. I wonder if Miller used these clichés intentionally to showcase the preconceived notions and generalizations that people often make in situations like this.
The opening night performance began with some obvious nerves from the actors but it didn’t take them long to settle into their roles and make these characters anything but cliché and tired. Burgess portrayed a seemingly unlikable character with many redeeming attributes and charm. Thanks to the depth of the performance by Titcomb, I couldn’t decide if I pitied or admired Theo the first wife. Haylee Harrell and Amanda Maylett were solid supporting roles as well.
My favorites of the night were Sahara Hayes as Leah, the second wife and Wyatt McNeil as Tom. Both actors were strong and confident in their roles and I enjoyed there scenes together immensely. Having seen McNeil in Equus, I was pleased to see his easy performance as lawyer Tom – a much more conservative role. It showed his versatility and talent.
The transitions on stage, costume changes and general direction were smooth and well executed. The set was simple and worked well. I loved the sound and lighting design. The use of the echoing and the lighting to separate historical and current scenes was incredibly captivating.
The staging and direction were clear and lent to the telling of the story, with the exception of the scene after the nightmare (wives with knives – well done again), where Tom is talking with Felt. A majority of this scene Tom was standing in the same location with his back to the audience, because of where I was sitting; most of this time was spent staring at his back. A little more movement would have allowed greater connection with the characters.
I’m not sure how I felt about the costumes and some props. They were professional and looked good but I felt that they didn’t help with the timeline. The show is already confusing by having young actors play 50-60 year old characters with references to railroads and Eisenhower. Then add in 1940’s, 60’s and 80’s feeling apparel and hair design, early edition cell phones and modern music in scene changes…. I was confused at what time and era we were actually in. The director’s note alone brought me into the 1980’s and helped but the story itself confused this and may have been told better with distinct era specific costumes and props.
In short, the play is a provocative look at marriage, monogamy and morals. It asks questions that are easy for some to answer but not so clear for others. Again, the question is asked if we hate the main character at the end of the night, my friend’s response was a resounding “yes!” Mine, I don’t know, I have to think about it.
The Ride Down Mount Morgan is playing at Westminster College in Salt Lake through October 15th. It’s not suitable for children because of language, sexual commentary and topics discussed. However, it is suitable for those open to challenging themselves to a thought provoking evening.