Felt and Unfelt

Miller has said that the play, first produced in London seven years ago, was written in response to the selfishness of the Reagan era, but it has no more to do with that than it has with Clinton's cigar box. All it says morally is that a dishonest man can be a charmer. This isn't exactly hot news, and Miller has, disquietingly, structured his play to go no further. At the end, wife A has a version of that breakdown, wife B storms out spluttering vows of revenge and legal action, and Lyman is left alone at last, to begin figuring out what he has and hasn't really felt all this time.

This would be a workable action for a half-hour one-act, but Miller has padded it to a full evening with repeated displays, in speech or flashback, of Lyman's charm as a seducer and prowess as a cocksman. Instead of indicting or confronting the hero's self-aggrandizement, Miller abets the
audience's sneaking fondness for it. His victims, meanwhile, are downplayed: Wife A is a conventional well-bred killjoy, wife B only a few steps above the usual Hollywood idea of a with-it other woman. Wife A's grown daughter is a whining bifurcated stream of need and resentment; wife B's son is unseen. Yet Miller has fun letting Lyman score off his stooges, winning even the arguments he's already lost with sly grins and hangdog admissions of guilt. Though tiresome in its reiterations, the play is full of bright patches and twistily actable moments. David Esbjornson's direction allows his two leads, Patrick Stewart (Lyman) and Frances Conroy (wife A), to make the most of them. Warmly assured and smiling, Stewart makes Lyman all endearing innocence, wisely leaving the script to tell you the dirty truth; it's a big, convincing, well-sustained performance. Conroy, who's coming into her richest period yet as an actress, doesn't let even a phrase ring false, sketching the character's limits without ever seeming pinched either vocally or emotionally herself.

From left, Richard Spore, John Turturro, Tony Shalhoub, and Christopher Lloyd in Waiting for Godot: the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.
Dixie Sheridan
From left, Richard Spore, John Turturro, Tony Shalhoub, and Christopher Lloyd in Waiting for Godot: the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

Details

Waiting for Godot
By Samuel Beckett
Classic Stage Company
135 East 13th Street
677-4210

The Ride Down Mt. Morgan
By Arthur Miller
Joseph Papp Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
260-2400

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Their strength is all the more important, given some iffy support: Kali Rocha finds only whine in the daughter's needy, resentful soul, while Meg Gibson's emotionally smudgy, scattered performance as the second wife is a constant irritation. Esbjornson makes a few nice images of the chaos in Lyman's mind, but the metal bars of John Arnone's set suggest ominously that we, not the characters, are trapped in all this unfelt (or unFelt) talk.

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