Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Misterman" - Simply Superb

Reviewed by Judd Hollander
Photos by Pavel Antonov

Cillian Murphy gives THE must-see performance of the year in the funny, touching, and ultimate soul-shattering Misterman, Enda Walsh's brilliant and probing work of one man's tortured psyche, now having its American premiere at St. Ann's Warehouse.

Set in Ireland, in the town of Inishfree, Murphy plays Thomas Magill, a 33 year-old man and devout believer in the word of God. Thomas also does his best to bring the Lord's message to those around him. The problem is that most people simply don't measure up to the standards the Scriptures set; least of all Magill himself. Thomas is also a bit of an odd duck, one of the townsfolk remarking that he’s considered "touched" by the locals, and not in a good way.

It soon becomes apparent there’s something not quite right with Thomas. He lives in a giant warehouse/garage, one filled with old style reel-to-reel tape recorders. A bit obsessive when it comes to exact details, Thomas has a habit of continually recording and writing things down, and uses the materials on tape to reconstruct actual scenarios and altercations that have previously occurred between him and the different villagers. (It should be noted here that Murphy is the only on-stage character in the play.) 

As Thomas goes through his routines he finds himself morally challenged time and again as he and the townspeople fail to be worthy of what God demands (and also what Thomas demands of them). However Thomas soon believes he has found salvation in the perfect companion when he meets an angel (voiced by Alice Sykes); someone who can help share his life's work. However it's not long before reality begins to rear its ugly head and Thomas finds himself devising a plan that will make his doubters take notice and finally put him on the path he has desperately sought to tread.

Walsh (who directs his own work here) and Murphy are able to skillfully combine the different genres the play contains (ranging from slapstick to nostalgia to horror) into a fascinating whole.  Even more significantly, with Magill the playwright has created one of the most fully-formed and yet still-mysterious characters on stage today. That Misterman (a nickname given to Thomas by one of the Inishfree locals) is a tour de force for Murphy is putting mildly. His Thomas is a tormented soul, unceasingly yearning to be part of a world he cannot reach; and a man seen by the rest of the village as unbalanced and someone to be avoided as much as possible.

Perhaps the most telling moments occur when Thomas realizes that those he thought good and pure are in fact not (at least by his standards); with the horror of said realizations becoming apparent in his very eyes. Thomas also has issues regarding his own mother and father. The former, (voiced by Marcella Riordan) pretty much an invalid who Thomas has to take care of; and the latter, now dead, who was apparently revered in the county as "a great man." There's also a sort of manic, almost kinetic energy in Thomas’ actions. Someone not neat at all, (eschewing the oft-used prim and proper stereotype), with a habit of throwing things about instead of setting them down, and overturning objects instead of moving them aside or simply stepping around them.

More significantly, Murphy is able to make the character of Thomas both immediately likable and interesting. An important point, because with the beginning of the show offering up more questions than answers, one needs to want to learn more about this mysterious lad and follow him every step of the way on his journey. Murphy also brings life many of the different characters in the script, using various mannerisms, movements and dialects to make them all distinct from one another. From Mrs. Clearly, the owner of the local café, (where one can get some wonderfully tasting cheesecake), to the somewhat overhearing Charlie Mc Anerny, who does a wonderful "banana monologue", each has their own specific identity and local flavor.

Walsh’s direction is nicely sure-handed, keeping the action moving and the tension slowly rising, while guiding Murphy through little respites and side trips until the final destination. In a brilliant touch, the play uses the entire length of the enormous St. Ann's Warehouse stage, with Murphy frequently running from one end to the other. (There's a hilarious scenario with Thomas cooking on one side of the space and then going to use the sink on the other end.)

Jamie Vartan’s set makes good use of the venue space, which, coupled with Gregory Clarke’s sound design work (ranging from barking dogs to crowd noises), and Adam Silverman’s lighting, all combine to create the believably the work suggests. (Though there was a problem with one of the light cues in the beginning.)

An absolutely stunning piece of theatre and a fantastic performance by Murphy makes Misterman stand head and shoulders above the current theatrical pack and one hopes it will be remembered when award season comes around. (The show also has a final pronouncement that will have the audience so in the moment you don't quite know what to do when it ends.)


Featuring: Cillian Murphy (Thomas Magill)
Voices: Marcella Riordan (Mammy), Alice Sykes (Edel)
Other Voices: Eanna Breathnach, Niall Buggy, JD Kelleher, Simone Kirby, Mikel Murfi, Morna Regan, Eileen Walsh, Barry Ward

Written and directed by Enda Walsh
Designer: Jamie Vartan
Lighting Designer: Adam Silverman
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke
Composer: Donnacha Dennehy
Movement Director: Mikel Murfi
Associate Sound Designer: Helen Atkinson
Prop Buyer: Lizzie Chapman
Costume Assistant: Emily Ní Bhroin
Production Manager: Eamonn Fox
Company Stage Manager: Rachel Murray
Assistant Stage Manager: Kelly Shaffer Allen
Light Board Operator: Liz Jenetopoulos
Set Construction: TPS, Addmor Planned Storage, Ltd
Scenic Artists: Sandra Butler, Jason McCaffrey

Presented by St. Ann's Warehouse and Image Ireland
38 Water Street, Brooklyn (DUMBO)

A Landmark Production/Galway Arts Festival Production

Running Time: 1 Hour 30 minutes, no intermission
Closes: December 22, 2011

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The best acting I've ever seen on stage. A class production.