Berkshire Theatre Group's 'Anna Christie': Dat ol' devil, Eugene O'Neill
STOCKBRIDGE -- There's a new feminist, of sorts, in town. Her name is Anna Christie. As played by Rebecca Brooksher in the determined revival of Eugene O'Neill's 1922 Pulitzer Prize-winning play at Berkshire Theatre Festival's Fitzpatrick Mainstage, Anna is a woman who comes into her own over the course of the play -- owning the choices she's made, given tawdry circumstances and meager resources, and fully taking charge of a life that holds little promise and fewer guarantees.
Life has not been kind to Anna. She was given up at the age of 5 by her father, Chris Christopherson (Jonathan Hogan), a Swedish merchant seaman, to be raised on a farm in Minnesota by her mother, who soon dies, and her mother's Swedish immigrant family. She is treated like slave labor; sexually abused by the family's teenage son. She flees to the city and after a brief career as a nurse turns to prostitution. Now, as the play begins, she has come to New York to start her life anew and to begin by reclaiming her severed relationship with her father, whom she hasn't seen in 15 years and from whom she has kept the truth of her life on the streets.
When a sailor named Mat Burke (Derek Wilson) falls in love with her, Anna faces the prospect of a future she has not permitted herself to believe just might be possible. But when she is put in the middle of an argument between Mat and her father during which both talk about her with proprietary male prerogative and entitlement, Anna seizes the opportunity and lashes out, forcing them to hear the unvarnished truth about her life over the last 15 years. The ferocity of her narrative speaks not only to Mat and Chris but to all the men who bent her body and her will to their own over the years. In a sublime irony, men claimed her self-respect and now men are enabling her to reclaim what she has lost -- and then some. The emotionally shattering scene, virtually a monologue, introduces some compelling wrinkles to Brooksher's otherwise wrinkle-free Anna.
The ravages of time and experience hardly show in Brooksher's rosy-cheeked, neatly pressed Anna. Her eyes hold not even the faintest trace of weariness, wariness, exhaustion, the scaly residue left when innocence is taken away at far too early an age. The journey O'Neill plots for Anna spans a greater distance than the journey Brooksher's Anna travels.
Hogan's Chris Christopherson is a laconic, phlegmatic, ineffectual figure who lives in a world of booze and denial.
Wilson's Mat is all raw emotion and impulse, elements that Wilson crafts with instinctive male assertion on the one hand and appealing childlike naivete on the other, an aspect that is put to a severe test when Anna's revelations press Mat's love for her hard against his Irish-Catholic morality.
For all its achievements, director David Auburn's earnest production doesn't quite overcome the weight "Anna Christie" carries from the instrusive authenticity of its linguistic rhythms, a wearing emotional monotone, especially in Hogan's Chris, and unwieldy construction that eventually bogs the play down.
Dat ol' devil playwright will have his way.
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