Emotional Eugene O’Neill drama is given a competent rendering
A couple of months ago I reviewed a version of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape. I didn’t particularly enjoy either the play itself or the rather wooden production it received. It was, therefore, with a degree of trepidation that I approached a play by the same writer/company as before although I resolved to clear my mind of my previous encounter and approach this with an open attitude.
After all, Anna Christie, which predates the other piece, won the 1922 Pulitzer prize for drama and therefore had to have something going for it. The only other thing I knew about it was that the 1930 film version starred Greta Garbo in her first speaking role after the days of the silent movies; it featured the famous tagline “Garbo speaks!”
Given the experimental nature of some of O’Neill’s plays, Anna Christie has a rather conventional structure. The protagonist has grown up on a farm in Minnesota estranged from her father, a Swedish immigrant, since she was a young girl. She reunites with him in a seedy bar and then goes to live on the coal barge he captains. They rescue a young stoker, Mat Burke and they fall for each other. But Anna is hiding the secret that she fell into a life of prostitution (post farm and pre coal barge) and feels forced into a corner about revealing her former activities.
In many ways this is a harking back to the “woman with a past” plays of Oscar Wilde although set in an entirely different social milieu. And O’Neill thankfully takes things in a different direction. As Anna’s father and intended husband fight for domination of her soul, she stands up to both and declares her independence of spirit. This precipitates, for this writer, an atypical if rather muted happy ending.
Katie Nabors is the best element in an uneven production and makes for a sparky and engaging central figure with just the right mix of innocence and experience. She’s no Garbo but it’s actually a role that benefits from subsuming star quality and emphasising the ordinariness of the character. When it is revealed early on that Anna has just been in hospital, Nabors makes it abundantly clear without any dialogue what she has undergone. And her “declaration of independence” speech to the two men is deftly handled. It’s a good part for a young actor and Nabors seizes her opportunity.
‘After The Hairy Ape, I approached this with a degree of trepidation’: @JohnChapman398 has another go at Eugene O’Neill with @EnsembleCL’s #AnnaChrista via @Vimeo. #theatrereviews #onlineshows