Of all the many hard-hitting statements made by Martin Moran in All the Rage, the life-affirming one-man show authored by and starring the performer and which opened last night at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, one statement stood out among his descriptions of those who have somehow been victimized or found themselves on the downside advantage. At one point, the engaging performer mentions that he is over fifty years old. And I was struck. Though it has no big set changes or intricately choreographed scenes, Rage is indeed a rigorous workout, and Moran guides his audience through the show with ease and a calming conviction that requires a kind of inner energy that not even most marathon runners half his age possess.
Not that Rage feels long – in fact, Moran’s reflective biography flies by as directed by Seth Barrish. It’s as riveting as was his first one-man show, The Tricky Part, also directed by Barrish. Rage is not a sequel but in many ways an emotional catch-up piece to that 2004 Obie-winning work. That first show addressed the effects endured by Moran as a result of sexual abuse at a young age. Moran doesn’t avoid discussing those elements of his past, but he applies the lessons learned from his experience (and subsequent therapy) to other areas, both mentally and geographically. Moran’s current tale finds him facing a miserable stepmother in Las Vegas, a hermetic brother in the Denver of his youth, and even to South Africa. If it sounds like this show might be all over the place, fear not: the masterful Moran is very much in control at all times of his coherent show.
Barrish has staged Moran as though his audience were students in a classroom or (perhaps self-help?) lecture being taught by Moran. Set designer Mark Wendland has fashioned a desk, globe, blackboard, map, and overhead projector for the performer to use as tools illustrating his whereabouts for his stories. There all also lamps near these aides. In a noticeable but undistracting touch, Moran keeps turning off each lamp the second he is ready to move on from a specific anecdote. While this certainly cuts down on heat – and perhaps onstage electric bills – it also adds to the comforting feel of the show. (Russell H. Champa also designs effective lighting that cannot be operated onstage.) Despite the probing nature of Rage, Moran is like a post-modern Mr. Rogers. He may be taking us along scary terrain, but we are always assured that we will remain safe.
As Moran explains, his journey begins after a nasty confrontation with his stepmother at the funeral of his father sends him on a quest for greater purpose. He hilariously recounts how feeling a little empty weighed on him while performing on Broadway in Monty Python’s Spamalot and eventually led him to volunteer as a French-to-English translator for Siba, a refugee from Chad. Siba, who has undergone torture by guerillas and been separated from his family, knows of a kind of pain that pierces even deeper, some might argue, than Moran’s has. Moran relays the many lessons that Siba teaches him about acceptance and forgiveness, and how he applies those lessons in his own life, often with surprising results. Barrish lets his performer stroll out to sea without getting caught in any undertow; none of Moran’s tangents are actually that. What they are are chapters in the story of Moran’s continuing search for personal growth and self-actualization. And what they also are, more often than not, are quite hysterical.
What Rage also is, contrary to title, is a very measured show. Moran is wholly involving. He is generous with personal information without being self-aggrandizing. And he knows how not to cross the line into territory that might feel too personally threatening to his audience. In All the Rage, Moran hits on universal feelings of loss, loneliness, confusion and anger. But his story remains, intoxicatingly, very much his own.
All the Rage
Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, www.ticketcentral.com. Through Feb. 24.
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