THE RIDE DOWN MT. MORGAN by Arthur Miller, directed by Ron White and Peter Van Wart, with White, Kate Trotter, Zorana Kydd, Melissa Kramer, Van Wart and Marium Carvell. Presented by BirdLand Theatre at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Previews begin Friday (March 12), opens Tuesday (March 16) and runs to April 3, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday and Saturday 2 pm. $30-$35, Monday pwyc, stu/srs/art workers $20. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
it's miller time in toronto the atre. Two productions by lauded American playwright Arthur Miller open this week, first the Canadian premiere of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, and a few days later an Equity Showcase production of the autobiographical After The Fall. In typical Miller fashion, both explore the consequences of choices, the fallout for the decision-makers and for others.
In The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, Lyman Felt's two wives show up when a car accident lands the well-to-do insurance man in the hospital. Neither woman knows about the other's relationship with Felt, and the play consists of the confrontations between them - and their mutual husband - in reality and in fantasy episodes.
"Miller's laid it bare," notes Kate Trotter, who plays Theo, the first of Lyman's wives. "He's had the courage to portray men and women at their best and worst - the best in their attempt to communicate, and the worst in their inability to perceive themselves."
The reflective actor considers this. "I think we lie to ourselves - the play's central character is named Lyman."
Trotter's played some pretty powerful stage roles over the past several decades, including the spirited Hermione in The Winter's Tale, the touching Alma in Summer And Smoke and a leather-clad version of the villainous Milady in The Three Musketeers.
She's played at Shaw, Stratford and Theatre Plus and worked in film and TV as well, earning a Gemini for a role in Blue Murder last season.
I first saw her in the early 80s in Translations (she actually played two characters in different productions), which won Trotter a Dora. She's been nominated three other times.
Sipping coffee before a rehearsal, Trotter radiates the same elegant energy and warm candour she brings to her parts.
She's fascinated by the contrasted views of Miller's two women, the nurturing Theo and businesslike Leah.
"Theo's love is maternal, and I think that's why she brings her grown-up daughter Bessie with her to the hospital. She's a woman who's committed herself entirely to being a mother.
"The younger businesswoman Leah's love for Lyman is sexual. The man isn't sophisticated enough to understand that difference," says Trotter, talking expressively with her hands, "and why the self-serving Lyman starts to find Theo boring and looks for someone like Leah."
Trotter rushes to add that if the company plays it right, the audience should feel great empathy with Lyman and the other characters because of their humanity.
"I hope the audience leaves the theatre arguing about the questions of social interaction that Miller asks but doesn't answer."
The intricate script isn't the only problem the company is dealing with these days. Shortly after rehearsals began, director Cameron Wright died suddenly. The actors are now collaborating on directing the show.
"There's a magical relationship that sometimes happens between actor and director - I've had it with Michael Shamata, Martha Henry, Richard Monette and TV director Steve DiMarco, among others - where you're empowered to trust your instincts and the text.
"You'll crawl over broken glass for the director."
Trotter can't work on the Miller script without thinking of Wright, who picked her specifically for the role of Theo and whom she credits with being passionate about the show without invading the actors' space.
"That's one reason we all want to finish what we started, to do our best to honour the vision he had."