By Diana Saenger
Let’s Review!Eugene O’Neill’s, “Anna Christie,” which won the author his second Pulitzer Prize in 1921, has played on numerous stages over the decades, but the version at The Old Globe this month, may be the best place to see this heartfelt story yet.
Anna, a motherless girl, estranged from her father, has survived, though in unpleasant ways. After ending up in a hospital, she decides to find her father, a crusty old sailor who captains a coal barge. Chris Christopherson is delighted to reacquaint with Anna after 15 years, and despite her reluctance, persuades her on onboard to recuperate.
O’Neill seasoned the character of Chris to perfection. Perhaps that’s because O’Neill himself lived in a flophouse above a bar and got a real insight into the sailors who came through the door.
Actor Bill Buell inherits O’Neill’s vision of Chris with distinction. He shifts between a robust sea-faring mariner who would rather drink than eat, to a guilt-ridden father who can’t hide his joy that his “angel” is home. Buell does an incredible job of handling the brogue of his character and tosses out the line “that old devil sea” – which he blames on anything bad that has happened to him – like he was born saying it. His mannerisms are spot-on, like when he’s serious about something and his furrowed brow settles his left eyebrow just a tad further down his face than his right brow.
Shortly after Anna is aboard, a group of stranded sailors are rescued from their lifeboat. One is Mat Burke (Austin Durant), a strapping, abrasive sailor who clings to Anna on the deck like he’s found the best thing since canned tuna.
She, of course, is instantly appalled coming off the trauma of being groped to survive. Chris is all over Mat, instantly shielding Anna and setting the rules Mat must follow to stay on board.
Actor Durant fills the boots of Mat well. His few tender moments are believable, and the one problem I had toward the end where be berates Anna way too many times about her former life, is a script problem, not one of Mat’s doing.
Kristine Nielsen drew loud applause for her role as Marthy, Chris’ drunken girlfriend who lovingly gives up her spot on the ship for Anna. Jessica Love doesn’t quite measure up in her portrayal, I never felt she was Anna; she always seemed to be an actress delivering her lines. She lacked emotion in some of the pivotal moments of Anna’s story, particularly in the later scenes when she suffers so many angry blasts from Mat, but seems willing to bend her life once again just to be loved.
Wilson Chin’s scenic design is so authentic playgoers will think they are actually aboard the barge. From the inventive rope work, and the transitions from bar to ship, every scene is transporting. The fog easing in eliminates any thought that one is setting in a theater, and the sound design by Paul Peterson of the sea, bells and horns add to the realism and enjoyment of “Anna Christie.”
If you goWhat: ‘Anna Christie’
When: Matinees, evenings to April 15
Where: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Tickets: From $29
Box Office: (619) 234-5623