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Dat Ole Davil Sea

Anna Christie
Pat Kirk

They Cover the Waterfront: Anna (Kathleen Pirkle Tague) and Mat (Gordon Goodman) search for relevance in Eugene O'Neill's time-capsule drama.

Dated O'Neill drama is rough sailing at SJ Rep

By Anne Gelhaus

SAN JOSÉ Repertory Theatre's production of Anna Christie is great fun as a melodrama, what with stereotypical characters spouting clichéd dialogue with over-the-top conviction. It's when the play takes a sudden turn into hard-core drama that it loses its footing somewhat.

Eugene O'Neill initially set out to write his script as a tribute to the sailors he met while living on New York City's waterfront in the early 1900s, but he shifted his focus from Chris Christopherson, the drunken captain of a coal barge, to Christopherson's daughter, Anna, whom he sent to live with distant relatives to protect her from "dat ole davil sea." Anna's environment turns out to be anything but protective, and her coming to terms with her checkered past and finding arguable redemption in the arms of Irish sailor Mat Burke form the core of the plot.

Kathleen Pirkle Tague's performance as Anna gets stronger as her character starts to lose the rough edge she developed in her whorehouse days. Tague is much better at showing Anna's inner struggle as she decides whether to reveal her former occupation to her father and her lover than she is at tackling outdated lines like "Gimme a whiskey--ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby."

As Anna's father, Warren Sweeney seems to have worked a little too hard on his Swedish accent, which is so thick that his lines are often unintelligible--except when he's cursing "dat ole davil sea," which he does about two dozen times during the play to great comic effect.

Gordon Goodman's portrayal of Mat Burke is the most problematic, primarily because his character is a near-perfect realization of the quick-tempered Irish braggart, a stereotype that doesn't sit too well with modern audiences.

Director Peggy Shannon has staged the scene in which Mat comes back to Anna as a frightening depiction of an abusive relationship: Mat calls Anna scum, throws her around the room and then begs forgiveness and expresses his undying love. When the couple decides to make amends, it's not at all clear that they'll live happily ever after; instead, it seems as though Anna has traded one hard life for another.

True, the play's ending is supposed to be ambiguous, but it doesn't track in the Rep's production, which up to that point is fairly tongue-in-cheek. The severe turn toward the serious is at odds with the irreverent tone applied to the play until that point.

Anna Christie plays Tuesday­Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 4:30pm and 8:30pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm and Wednesday (April 12) at noon through April 6 at the Montgomery Theater, San Carlos and Market streets, San Jose. Tickets are $16­$30. (408/291-2255)

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From the March 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro

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