We gave it an A-
The minute Cillian Murphy took on the title role of Enda Walsh’s Misterman, the production could essentially sell itself. U.S. audiences will undoubtedly flock to Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse to see the Cork-born film star’s famed baby blues in a setup so intimate he could spit on you. During his mesmerizing, bravura solo performance as a town freak at the end of his very short rope, he might actually do just that.
I have never seen an actor tear up as convincingly as Murphy. Nor have I known anyone else who could make his nose run on cue. Walsh (who also directs) has the actor do both while portraying Thomas Magill, the mysterious thirtysomething Bible beater who’s hiding out in an abandoned warehouse where he meticulously recreates the day he fled his rural village of Inishfree. Thomas used to spread the good word around town while recording his interactions with people on an old tape deck. Now he’s using his reel-to-reels — and every theatrical device at his disposal — to help him replay his final, fateful conversations. When Thomas signals a passing car, we hear an engine. When he cries, ”let there be light,” there is light. When he wants rain, it pours.
Murphy can’t just rely on recorded costars; he impersonates nearly all of his fellow villagers. The actor slips back-and-forth from man to woman, from 33-year-old to septuagenarian, switching instantly and easily between their different laughs and postures, facial tics and hand gestures. Impersonating the town drunk, he fist-pumps to Toto (the band, not the dog) — then morphs into the local flirt and aggressively seduces, well, himself. In bursts of athleticism, Murphy runs to one end of the 3,400-square-foot St. Ann’s to rub Vicks on his mother’s back (it’s actually a table), and then sprints back to the other end to attend a community dance. As the show progresses, Thomas becomes increasingly strange and agitated, and the villagers turn cruel. The soundtrack turns from cloying Doris Day to frightful dirge.
Walsh once described Misterman, which was first performed in 1999, as ”rural Irish Theatre seen through the haze of absinthe.” It’s an apt description. Misterman is also the perfect pairing of unorthodox playwright and fearless actor. Walsh’s work has played in the U.S. for years (often at St. Ann’s), yet he’s never won the mainstream acceptance of Irish contemporaries such as Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh. His screenplay for Hunger (starring Michael Fassbender as activist Bobby Sands) earned some attention, and his Off Broadway adaptation of the movie Once (opening this week) will bring more. Walsh’s signature works, including Misterman, obsess over life’s miseries and the roles we are all forced to perform in our little ”villages”: the good girl, the bad boy, the town crazy. And in Murphy — whose career Walsh helped launch 15 years ago when he cast him in the twisted drama Disco Pigs — he’s found someone who can play them all. A-
(Tickets: stannswarehouse.org or 866-811-4111)