Play – Misterman
by Edna Walsh
directed by Melissa Firlit
played by Craig MacArthur
Thingamajig Theater, Pagosa Springs, CO
The advertisement for this play reads “A seductive and terrifying portrait of a luminous madness that dares you not to look away.” Turns out that is an apt description of this one-man, one act play. Before summarizing the plot, I’ll say that the acting was superb. I can’t comment on the work of the director because the story is so unclear and ambiguous that it’s not really clear what should be portrayed here.
Immediately after the final scene, the audience paused as if unsure whether or not to applaud. Slowly a few people clapped their hands, then more followed with some polite, subdued applause. About half of the audience gave a standing ovation. It was clear to me that they were applauding the performance of the actor, not the content of the story. We were then invited for an informal discussion with the actor and producer (the director was not in attendance). About a third of the audience stayed for the discussion, including myself. The remainder walked out in silence. I’m glad I stayed, because without that session, it was difficult to understand what was going on here.
The single act takes place in a small, messy warehouse, in which Thomas lives. Estranged from the people of his own town in Ireland, Thomas seems to continually relive his past, talking to enemies who are not there, then playing their roles to keep the conversation going. He storms around the tiny warehouse, which is staged with some simple vignettes from his past. There is his father’s grave, a cafe table in a favorite restaurant, a kitchen table, and other simple props in which he recalls and is continually haunted by his past.
Thomas believes that most people are sinners and will burn in hell, and at several points in the performance, including the opening scene, he preaches out loud, to no one in particular, the glory of a righteous path. The warehouse also contains several tape recorders, which he turns on and off frequently. These recorders play the voices of the two loves of his life – his mother and his wannabe girlfriend. He converses with them, and they are the only other characters on the stage that the performer does not portray.
By contrast, the many other characters of the town are actually portrayed by the actor himself, often in rapid-fire arguments where he switches roles every few seconds. It is a dizzying, confusing performance, a bit troublesome to watch, and challenging to try to discern the meaning of it all. In the final scene, in a conversation with his wannabe girlfriend, she reveals that she only befriended him as a dare. It was a setup, and he is furious. Though the result of this devastating confession is not entirely clear, the soundtrack of her voice seems to indicate that he destroys her, possibly even kills her.
And that is the end of the play, at which the performer walks to the front of the stage and bows, leaving the audience silent, unsure what to do. A few people clap, which of course encourages others to also clap. I’m reminded of the opening performance of Death of A Salesman, in which at the end of the show, the audience walked out without applause.
In the discussion following the play, no clear meaning emerged. Perhaps the best explanation was that the play was an extreme case of the demons that can exist within us, and how those demons can become our reality. Heavy stuff, not particularly pleasant, though maybe worthwhile to consider.