Two years after its last ride Off Broadway, Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mt. Morgan is riding, or sliding, again onto Broadway. Miller has slightly jazzed up his script, but nothing substantial has been changed. The play is a senescent retrospect at a (mainly sexual) life – and a rather vulgar bit of masturbation.
There is, though, a certain slyness in this disguised piece of self-exculpation. Miller makes his semi-autobiographical hero, the bigamist Lyman Felt, less than perfect, and gives his two wives plenty of racy, accusatory lines. Yet it all builds toward a climax exalting Lyman’s energy and sexual athleticism as a life force that cannot be gainsaid, symbolized by the kiss his black nurse bestows on him as he seems to recuperate from a near-fatal car crash. In other words, make it look like balanced, impartial judgment even as you sneak in the argument pro domo.
As for the sexuality: There is nothing wrong with an old man’s still glorying in sex, distasteful only when it becomes puerile smuttiness, as in, say, Yeats’s “A Stick of Incense,” or here in Lyman’s drooling over the vagina as a “pink cathedral,” or his enthusiastic quoting of I. B. Singer’s explanation of someone’s leaving his wife for another woman because “maybe he liked her hole better.” And the best words Lyman finds for extolling his potency in bopping one wife a few minutes before bopping the other are “The moon’s in my belly and the sun’s in my mouth and I’m shining on the world.” Goatish lip-smacking and self-serving hyperbole: Lyman Felt, semi-aptly named, is a lying man in a play unfelt.
The bad is compounded by Patrick Stewart in the lead. One of the hammiest and (except in the eyes of Trekkies) most uncharismatic actors, Stewart struts, gloats, mugs, delivers his lines as if from a revivalist’s pulpit, and clobbers us with his charmlessness and the obtuseness of those who recklessly, Treklessly star him. Too bad that the fine performances of Frances Conroy and John C. Vennema, as well as John Arnone’s clever scenery and Brian MacDevitt’s resourceful lighting, are not deployed in a better cause.