From the moment the bone-tired and recalcitrant Anna Christie plops herself down in Johnny-the-Priest’s saloon, you suspect that she is the proverbial “woman with a past.” By the end of Act 1, you’re damned near sure of it. When your suspicions are confirmed in Act III, you wonder what took Anna’s guilt-ridden old salt of a father and churlishly self-righteous lover so long to figure it out.
Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, one of the Irish playwright’s most melodramatic (and that’s saying something) works, withholds its emotional explosions. But finally the tale becomes a shouting match between Anna’s Swedish father and Irish lover, with the alternately contrite and resolute girl in the middle, dodging flailing arms and recriminations. In an overcooked production at the Old Globe Theatre, Bill Buell (as Anna’s father, Chris), Austin Durant (as the lover, Mat Burke) and Jessica Love in the title role occupy the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre like combatants without neutral corners. Lurking in the darkness, invisible, is the “old devil sea” that is the play’s much-repeated metaphor. Love’s too-measured delivery is swamped by the warring Swedish and Irish accents, and O’Neill’s resolution, which smacks of Anna’s submission, doesn’t elicit sympathy for anyone.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.