Histrionic Lesson

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Posts, Theater.

Enda Walsh is quite the pedigreed
playwright, having penned such works as Disco
, Bedbound and Chatroom. The Irish writer has also more
recently written the screenplay for Steve McQueen’s Hunger and written the book for the musical adaptation of the movie
Once, which has already pole-vaulted
its way to a Broadway opening next year. And yet he remains a fairly
well-guarded secret, even in a community that has been known to elevate writers
to idolatrous heights.

The proprietors of St. Ann’s Warehouse
couldn’t have known they’d be striking while the iron was blazing hot when they
opted to produce a revival of Walsh’s intoxicating 1999 play, Misterman. But it’s unlikely anyone is
surprised that Walsh is enjoying a moment, as this solo show makes his talents for
evocative characterizations patently clear.

It helps that Walsh himself is in the
driver’s seat, having directed this high-octane production. Irish actor Cillian
Murphy (best known for movies like 28
Days Later
, Breakfast on Pluto
and Batman Begins) drives this
dizzying solo show as Thomas Magill, a religious fanatic who vows to save the
residents of the bucolic Irish village of Inishfree. Thomas is a deranged sort
of Santa, noting his neighbors’ various transgressions and even recording
conversations to be re-examined later. The man regales his audience with tales
of his various encounters, giving Murphy ample opportunity to display his ease bouncing
in and out of various accents and dialects.

It also gives Murphy ample space to
really let loose, enacting some outrageous moments at a fever pitch. The
further Thomas gets into this play-length monologue, the further he descends
away from reality, detailing notable incidents involving a dog and a young girl
who befriends him that eventually belie the narrator’s pious tone. One of the
pitfalls with solo shows is that the action is often very auditory, but Welsh’s
direction of Misterman jumps that
hurdle with a production that stays in motion and remains visually vibrant. (On
a literal level, however, Walsh is dealing with too much physical space;
production designer Jamie Vartan’s colossal yet detailed set, in an abandoned
factory, covers the length of the entire northern end of the St. Ann’s venue, forcing
many craned necks and inevitably blocked views.)

Murphy is more than mere actor here;
he’s a veritable special effect. He runs up and down stairs, douses himself in
water, hurls tables, and even disembowels a cassette player all while bring
Walsh’s words to life and defining the myriad characters in Thomas’ mad world.
It’s enough cardio to give the audience a contact runners’ high. But secondhand
emotions would be redundant. Misterman
is so absorbing a journey one feels as though they are riding right along with
Thomas. It makes one wonder what trick Walsh has next up his magician’s sleeve.

Through Dec. 22, St. Ann’s Warehouse,
38 Water St., Bklyn, www.stannswarehouse.org.