The regional premiere of Arthur Miller’s “The Ride Down Mount Morgan” at Salt Lake Acting Company is a polished, professional affair — and I do mean “affair.”
Nine years ago, wealthy businessman Lyman Felt (Tony Larimer) got bored with his wife, “good ol’ Episcopal” Theodora (Joan Mullaney) and had an affair with a much younger woman, Leah (Jeanette Puhich). He told Leah he had divorced Theo, thus freeing him to marry her. In reality, the divorce didn’t happen, and he’s been married to both of them for nine years, successfully leading a double life.
All of this we learn in flashbacks, as the play unfolds in Lyman’s hospital room following a car accident. Both wives, along with Theo’s daughter Bessie (Emily Sandack), have come to see him, thus bringing all of Lyman’s lies (Miller was not very subtle in naming the character; his last name, “Felt,” is appropriate for the old lech, too) to light.
“Please just let me die!” Lyman half-prays as he realizes his two wives are in the waiting room, discovering his dishonesty. It’s a humorous moment, and one of many in this tragic comedy directed by Meg Gibson.
The situation is played for laughs for a while — almost inevitably, since the predicament is classic farce material — but then settles into a fascinatingly staged back-and-forth between the present, as each of the wives decide what they want to do with Lyman, and the past, as we see what led him to do such a thing. (In one hysterical scene, we see Lyman’s absurd, amoral fantasy about keeping BOTH wives, as the women, dressed in tight leotards, dance around his hospital bed and giggle about the delights of sharing a husband.)
Larimer is fantastic as Lyman, a man who has supressed his conscience almost out of existence. He’s a thoroughly despicable man, yet we don’t hate him. We pity him, and even relate to him. After all, who among us hasn’t tried to evade responsibility? Who among us, if we did something so colossally wrong, wouldn’t at first try to deny the reality of it as a defense mechanism?
Mullaney’s Theo tends to be a bit flat and melodramatic, and not quite believable. Puhich, too, as Leah, has moments of hollowness (“I’m still in mid-air,” she says early on of the recent developments, but it doesn’t sound like she means it), but she grows into the part as time goes on.
But despite minor weaknesses, the play astounds with its moral questions and fascinating storytelling, holding the audience’s attention without ever letting go. Jim Craig’s light design adds considerably, too, as does Rick Margitza’s music.
This was, I believe, the first play I'd ever seen at SLAC that didn't have any homosexuality references. It did maintain the theater's policy of always including the F-word, though, so at least that was consistent.
As a fan of Arthur Miller ("Death of a Salesman" is one of the best plays ever written, in my opinion -- rent the very theatrical 1985 filmed version with Dustin Hoffman sometime), I was excited to see a fairly recent play of his. Especially since I thought he was dead. I mean, "Salesman" is 50 years old. Turns out he's quite alive, and still writing plays. Ain't life something?