Anna Christie

"Dat ol' devil sea" giveth and taketh away in Eugene O'Neill's tempest-tossed, salt-sprayed Pulitzer Prize drama of loves lost and found, remorse and redemption, victory and hope snatched from tragedy and despair. This difficult, seldom staged neoclassic of early 20th century Americana is the boldly courageous choice of Pacific Resident Theatre to launch its new season and greet a dawning year. It summons humanity's better angels over its demons. We hail it as harbinger of a better year ahead.

It's unlikely a contemporary playwright would dare give a situation inevitably headed for tragedy a happy ending. O'Neill dares. Storm clouds loom ahead. Mercurial Mat may be unable to live with knowledge of Anna's past. But, for the moment, love conquers all; for Mat, Anna, and her father, this moment is all.

But what a tempestuous voyage to reach it! Anna, stunningly portrayed by Lesley Fera, embodies both madonna and whore. Her nature proclaims her a lady; her life has decreed otherwise. The sea lured her father away when she was a child, and Anna became a fallen woman--which people in those days called a fate worse than death. When Anna enters the waterfront saloon to meet her father after 15 years apart and a long train ride from Minnesota, she wears too much makeup, has holes in her fishnet stockings. She looks raffish. We see what she is, as does blowzy, jolly Marthy (Bonnie Bowers), her father's lady friend and drinking companion. But aging, Swedish, sea-faring Chris sees only the daughter to whom he longs to make amends. William Lithgow is a tough, tender, and lovable Chris.

Wondrously changed in the second act, Anna faces seaward on her father's coal barge like a Norse goddess, the figurehead on a Viking ship. This is where she belongs. That ol' devil sea that snatched her father away literally deposits at her feet a drenched and drowning seaman from a capsized fishing boat. And what a man Mat is--more Irish than County Kerry, a virile and irresistible charmer, rousingly played by Matt McKenzie. When the truth comes out about Anna's past, Mat explodes in a towering rage; violence seems sure to follow. But true love wins the day; it's miraculous, but there's artistry in the expression of it, and we accept it.

Director Gar Campbell at the helm of an all-star cast and meticulous PRT production values onstage and behind the scenes give the play vigorous, compelling expression. It skates dazzlingly and dangerously on thin ice; a false move could plunge it into melodrama and stereotype. Victoria Profitt and David Dionisio bring sea, space, and sky to the small stage with their artful scenic design. And it is double cast, not as policy but simply because so many wonderful PRT actors are perfect for the parts. The alternates are Paula Malcomson as Anna, Bruce French as Chris, Tim Murphy as Mat, and Jennifer Lonsway as Marthy. The casts are equally good--so we're told--which is very good, indeed. This is the kind of thing that makes us proud of PRT--and of small live theatre, in general.

Bonne Bowers...Martha Owens

Scott Conte...Larry

Lesley Fera...Anna

Bruce French...Chris

Tom Hynes...Johnny the priest

William Lithgow...Chris

Jennifer Lonsway...Martha Owen

David Madera...Longshoreman

Paula Malcolmson...Anna

Neil McGowen...Postman

Matt Mckenzie...Mat Burke

Timothy Murphy...Mat Burke