Writer: Eugene O’Neill
Director: Peter Richards
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
With a deceptively simple set, and a relatively straightforward story to tell, Anna Christie, directed by Peter Richards at The Wild Project, hardly seems like an almost 100-year-old script. While some of the text does feel dated in these actors’ mouths, the themes that were so cutting edge in 1921 are still surprisingly, or perhaps depressingly, relevant. Gender roles, bodily autonomy, and victim blaming are some of the more controversial topics plumbed in O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning script.
An estranged father, played sympathetically by Stephen D’Ambrose, is reunited with the daughter he abandoned fifteen years previous, making what he still believes to have been the right choice for her well-being. She, the title character, finds him in New York City and joins him upon the sea, living on the barge he now captains. She begins to find peace on the sea, in stark contrast with her father Chris’s deeply and long held disdain for this element, that has been both his livelihood and his curse. While out on their journey, they save an Irish sailor (Ben Chase) from the storm ridden sea, signaling the clear start of a romantic storyline. This is no straight line from meet-cute to the altar, though. Anna is a strong woman with a complex past, and neither her father nor her lover have the permission or the right to judge her actions, especially when they weren’t in her life at the time.
Richards provides adequate direction to the small ensemble cast, several moments of textual disconnect notwithstanding. Therese Plaehn, as Anna Christie, accesses a well of impressive emotional depth to bring her character to life, but is often impeded by a division between the words of the script and her ability to carry them naturally off. Combined with a slight directorial confusion around Anna’s objectives in her relationship with each man, and the fact that the script offers up an ostensibly happy ending while still leaving the door open for the possibilities of the unexpected future, this production has a slightly muddled point of view.
Chinks aside, this production is effective, and manages to find the truths in its world. The actors are committed and invested, while the set, costume, and lighting design — David M. Barber, Moria Sine Clinton, and Scott Bolman, respectively — blend seamlessly together to enforce the mood and setting. One could argue that a stronger modern feminist perspective would strengthen this production’s power, and place it more squarely in the present time, but even without that “fix,” this is a play worth seeing.
Runs until 17 December 2016