Watching F. Murray Abraham kiss his way up the leg of Patricia
Clarkson's blue jeans, the director Scott Elliott whispered:
"This play is very sexy to me. It's everything you don't
think Arthur Miller is but who he is as a human being. It's
going to make for a really 90's theater piece."
The pairing of the eminent
playwright, 80, with Mr. Elliott, 33, the director of three
critically acclaimed Off Broadway productions in the last 15
months, might seem unexpected, even quirky. Certainly, landing
the American premiere of Mr. Miller's "Ride Down Mount
Morgan" is a coup for the Williamstown Theater Festival,
best known for staging classics and unknown new plays.
"Scott's a very
contemporary guy; I like that," the playwright said. Mr.
Miller had mentioned his admiration for Mr. Elliott's work to
their mutual agent, Sam Cohn at ICM, who engineered the
collaboration. "Scott's full of energy and drive, and I
still have some of that myself. It's O.K. to have one old guy
around, but not too many. I don't like to feel I'm dragging
the director around."
"The Ride Down Mount
Morgan," first produced in London five years ago, runs
from Wednesday through July 28 on the festival's mainstage.
The London production, directed by Michael Blakemore with Tom
Conti in the central role, had left Mr. Miller unsatisfied, he
said. It received mixed reviews at the time.
"The play is really a
kind of nightmare," Mr. Miller explained. "It ought
to flow rapidly and effortlessly from one moment to another.
In London, we had difficulty with the set, which required too
much effort to move around. Having gotten the benefit of
seeing it done once, I wanted to work on the script, to make
it sharper and more pointed."
His protagonist, Lyman,
played by Mr. Abraham, has been in a car crash and broken all
his limbs. Throughout much of the play, Lyman lies in bed
while his wife (Michael Learned) bickers with a younger woman
(Patricia Clarkson) he has married without bothering to get a
As Mr. Elliott watched his
actors rehearse, Mr. Abraham suddenly slipped out of the bed
and stood behind it. "Lie down!" he commanded. As if
in a trance, the two women leaped onto the bed, reclining side
by side. Mr. Abraham's voice was so forceful that even Ms.
Learned's Boston bull terrier, Paloma, scampered up and
snuggled between the two women.
Except for Paloma, everything
about the scene derived from Mr. Miller's script, which may
surprise those who only think of the playwright as a master of
serious naturalistic dramas like "Death of a
Salesman" and "The Crucible."
"This play is similar to
an acid trip," said Mr. Elliott, "and that's the way
I'm staging it. I'm turning it into this subconscious
exploration of an ego, the ego of a man who wants it all and
doesn't really worry about how it's going to affect anybody
New York Times, July 14, 1996