Review: "Anna Christie" at The Wild Project

Alex Chester

  • OnStage Associate New York Critic

I recently went to see Eugene O'Neil's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama at The Wild Project.

For those of you not familiar with the plot here it is in a nutshell: Anna Christie is a prostitute looking for redemption and a new life from her father, a captain of a barge, and the man she loves, another man of the sea. 

In 1921 when this show was first produced, this play was considered groundbreaking and caused an uproar within society. 

The Wild Project in association with Working Barn Productions tries way too hard to keep the dramatics well, dramatic. 

This theatre space is tiny, and personally, I love a small black box theatre. There's an intimacy usually created between actor and audience member. It's almost as if we, the audience, are looking through the keyhole of a door. Spying on a piece of someone's life, without their knowledge. However, this felt more akin to a reality tv show. 

The direction by Peter Richards was way over the top for such a theatre space. At times my friend and I had to stifle our laughter because it was just plain funny. I didn't know if I was watching a comedy, a soap opera, but not a drama. 

Therese Plaehn, who plays the title role, over gesticulated way too much. At first, I loved her mannerisms and physicality's, I thought it added an inner depth to this lost woman. I kept expecting her scratching her chest to mean something like she had an incurable STI. Nope, no such luck. It eventually became distracting from the show. 

When Anna Christie's love interest Matt Burke, played by Ben Chase, first appeared it was as if he was the comic relief. I literally laughed out loud. It felt so awkward, this huge hunk of a man flailing about on stage. It probably would have worked in a larger venue. But just like television, the smaller the space the less you have to work. 

I also felt that the actors could have picked up the pace. It's a long show and the beginning just dragged. 

Another thing lacking in this production was diversity. There was none to be seen on this stage and for an East Village theatre, I have to say I was incredibly disappointed. You can be sure that I will follow up on that in another editorial. 

All in all, I didn't hate this production. I was entertained at times (probably for the wrong reasons) I just thought it had so much more potential.

Photo: Ben Chase, Therese Plaehn, and Stephen D'Ambrose appear in Anna Christie, directed by Peter Richards. (© Maria Baranova)