ANNA CHRISTIE, Apple Tree Theatre. Although Eugene O’Neill fought against the melodrama of his father’s brand of theater, he wasn’t above using its stock situations for his own purposes. In the 1921 Anna Christie, he turned the Victorian obsession with female virginity into a rough-hewn morality play complete with the gold-hearted former harlot of the title–the part in which Greta Garbo made her English-speaking film debut.
Cecilie D. Keenan’s solid, intelligent Apple Tree staging succeeds largely because she and her cast make no apologies for the dated material–which paradoxically makes it fresher onstage than on the page. When Anna finally explodes and tells her seafaring Swedish father and Irish sailor beau Mat (Aaron Christensen) the hard facts of her life–rape, abuse, prostitution–it’s every bit as thrilling and liberating as Nora’s door slam in A Doll’s House. Meredith Templeton’s spirited performance fleshes out the sinned-against Anna on her own terms, and Charles Gerace’s humility and devotion as Anna’s father overcome the handicaps of O’Neill’s script–endless speechifying about “dat ole davil sea” in an accent reminiscent of the Muppets’ Swedish chef.
O’Neill insisted that the happy ending–Anna and Mat reunite after her shocking confession drives him to a drinking binge–was an illusion, “only another trick of the sea.” Keenan opts for a lighthearted tone in the ending moments, trusting the audience to imagine the rough seas ahead for these likable but luckless characters.