January 29, 2015
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
The Odyssey Theatre
Through March 8
One of the pleasures of attending theater is witnessing the rebirth of a classic play through a vital new production. There's something profoundly satisfying in realizing that the concerns of the past aren't that different from our own; that art, when well done, resounds down the corridors of time like crisp, clear music. Kim Rubinstein’s new staging of Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna Christie with the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble is such a production, a superb revival full of melancholy beauty and passionate acting, highlighted by Zoe Perry's glorious performance in the lead role.
In 1910 New York, retired sailor Chris Christopherson (Jeff Perry), hanging out at a saloon with his current girlfriend Marthy (Mary Mara), is surprised to receive a letter from his daughter Anna (Zoe Perry). Chris hasn't seen Anna in 20 years, after abandoning his family for a life at sea, but he's thrilled to read that she's coming to visit him. His vision of the life she's had is very different from the life she's actually experienced, which led to her working as a prostitute. She keeps this from him, however, and blooms on his barge, loving the sea as much as Chris fears it. When they rescue shipwrecked sailor Mat (Kevin McKidd), however, and she falls in love with the young man, she worries that telling the truth about her past will destroy her future.
In a revelatory performance as Anna, Zoe Perry possesses an intensity reminiscent of the young Meryl Streep. From her initial appearance in the saloon, all flinty and feral, to the young woman beginning to enjoy life again, to her final fiery confessions as a desperate lover, Perry inhabits the role completely.
McKidd is outstanding as Mat, galvanizing the production as much as Mat does Anna. He brings a strong physicality to the role, not only manhandling Anna but most of the set as well, concisely portraying Mat as a young bull whose only instinct is to charge. Audiences who might only know McKidd from his work on Gray's Anatomy will be pleased to discover what a confident and skilled stage actor he is.
Jeff Perry is subtle and sympathetic as Chris, taking a character that could come off as broad and dated in lesser hands (with the sailor's constant refrain of "dat ol' debbil sea") and making him credible and interesting. Mara makes the most of her stage time as Marthy, with a tart and lively performance that offers welcome humor.
Director Rubinstein does splendid, creative work, particularly with her striking character-entrance sequences. Anna's arrival as she stands bedraggled and shaking with a discordant horn soundtrack wailing her inner turmoil is a stunning tableaux, followed just slightly in effect by Mat's entrance to the play, wet and wild from the water alongside the barge set. Rubinstein gets terrific work from saxophonist Martin Gutfeldt, who not only provides live musical accompaniment to various scenes but sound effects as well, such as the mournful lowing of a foghorn.
Wilson Chin's minimalist but effective set features a raised stage surrounded by an enclosed area of water, and Michael Gend's lighting design not only evokes the sea but also impressively pinpoints changes in mood. One note for those with breathing difficulties: there is a great deal of stage fog used (albeit to great effect) in this production.
This show may sell out due to McKidd's celebrity, but it should sell out because it is a fantastic production, and it should be a must-see to all fans of great theater.
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m,; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m. through March 8. http://www.OdysseyTheatre.com