Anna Christie

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater

Written in 1921 by Eugene O'Neill, Anna Christie earned a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and, in 1993, some three generations after its Broadway premiere, it won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.  Again, in 2011, it was honored with an Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play. Now So Cal theatergoers have an infrequent opportunity to experience an original staging of this American classic at Los Angeles' Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, through March 8.

This production, with dark, dank direction by Kim Rubinstein, is loyal to O’Neill’s script, mining it for rare, unexpected laughs and situational incongruence. Anna Christie (Zoe Perry, in a tour de force portrayal) is the hardscrabble adult daughter of erstwhile seafarer, the stridently Swedish Chris Christopherson (Jeff Perry, Zoe’s real life father, in a meticulous characterization and dialect). The two have long been estranged, but when Anna comes seeking refuge via her wayward father, who’s now captaining a coal barge between New York harbor and Provincetown, Massachusetts, Chris is ready for his call to parental responsibility, no matter how delinquent he may have been in his duties as a dad.

When Mat Burke (Kevin McKidd, in a commanding performance) – a blustery sailor made strong by shoveling coal all his manly days – lays eyes on Anna, it’s love at first fight. Forceful and unyielding, Matt is determined to make Anna his wife. This, however, is the last thing that Chris wants for his long forlorn offspring. What’s more, when both the men are told by Anna of her own sordid past, it causes disruption and upheaval amongst this unholy trio.

The time is 1910 and the high-sea culture on display is long-lived, if not enviable. The set design by Wilson Chin captures the soggy, ever-damp environment that O’Neill so eloquently explores. Surrounded by water on all sides, the centerpiece of the staging is a platform that serves as a seaside saloon as well as a bay-cruising barge. Further, Michael Gend’s lighting motif accentuates the dreary existence that life on the docks must have been. Additionally, Raquel Barreto’s costuming appears to approximate what sailors and their mates may have worn back in the day, a century ago.

To accentuate sound designer Martin Gutfeldt’s nautically themed acoustic design, Director Rubinstein adds a melancholy saxophone player (played by Gutfeldt) to the theatrical recipe. The haunting notes blown from the horn serve as background melodies, which underscores the singing interlude provided by Mary Mara in her role as barfly Marthy Owen. Additionally, sturdy character support is provided by Tait Ruppert as the quintessential seaside bartender

At two-and-a-quarter hours, Anna Christie delves into issues of love and loss, separation and anxiety, and finally, resilience, all with insight and revelation. Experiencing Anna Christie is akin to a trip back in time. O’Neill’s words still resonate, and the characters continue to speak to us.

Anna Christie continues at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble through March 8. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard, West Los Angeles. Evening performances are Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, call (310) 477-2055. For online ticketing and further information, visit