LA WEEKLY January 18-24, 2002
“Garbo talks!” So screamed an ad for Greta Garbo’s first non-silent film, Anna Christie (1930), based on Eugene O’Neill’s 1922 play about the capacity of a New York hooker to forgive her father for abandoning her as a child. Paula Malcomson (alternating with Lesley Fera) looks, even acts the tough-cookie part,like Garbo reincarnated, in Gar Campbell’s tender staging of the play. It sags for the initial 15 minutes or so, as the exposition-repartee among the denizens of the NYC waterfront bar feels bogged down in waterlogged pauses. Slowly, however,the production picks up the momentum; its initial burst of energy coincides with Anna’s arrival in the tavern, to reunite for the first time as an adult with her dad (William Lithgow), a sweet-natured Swede who now helms a coal barge that floats between Provincetown and Boston. The play’s rising tension hangs on the stresses that emerge as father and daughter grow increasingly fond of each other, and as Anna is courted by an equally possessive Irish sailor (Matt McKenzie) – this may be the first American feminist play. Campbell’s production swims in atmosphere – the fog on a barge scene, Kellie Canning’s costumes and David Dionisio’s multiple period sets. But its greatest triumph lies in the acting, in the care taken to carve the illusion of realism with blazing authenticity, where kindness mixes with unwitting cruelty.