Cillian Murphy Kills in Misterman

12/15/2011 8:00 AM |

Written & Directed by Enda Walsh

One-man show, indeed. Cillian Murphy is not just the only actor to appear in Misterman (through December 22), but the action seems set entirely in his character's head. The audience's point of view is rarely subjective in the theater; our unmediated access to the action—not via a word on a page or an image on a screen—implies objectivity. But here Murphy's Thomas proves an unreliable protagonist and de facto narrator, providing to us a glimpse of the imaginings, memories and reality of a deeply disturbed man who perpetually relives and revises one fateful day—like a nightmarish Groundhog Day—while harboring latter-day Noah fantasies of redemption and destruction.

Well, are they fantasies? There are intimations of post-apocalypse, as though Thomas is some kind of Omega Man bunkered down in a cavernous, sharply lighted industrial space that's like a Pee-Wee's playhouse for the insane. (The design's by Jamie Vartan, the lighting by Adam Silverman.) Or could it have just been an apocalypse of the self? Thomas is a pure narcissist, seemingly unaware of anything but himself, now existing entirely within his own mind. He has a supply of voice recordings of the townsfolk of his hometown of Innishmore, but mostly he voices those people himself, embodying the lovely young ladies, wicked flirts, and troublemaking fellas, all in conversation with himself. Thomas even manages to make it appear that an invisible man is beating him up.

That's perhaps Murphy's finest moment of the evening, though he's excellent throughout, delivering an animated, flamboyant, and manic performance—aggressively comic, silly, and physical—that's riveting for the show's full 80 minutes. Sweaty, wide-eyed and awed, he gives himself over wholly to the material, able to leap between emotional extremes instantaneously; he does more than imitate the locals' voices—he fully embodies each, switching between at least half-a-dozen well-rounded and deeply felt characters throughout the evening. It's through the actor's mad commitment that we come to understand Thomas' madness, and thus that we come to make sense of this strange work. A one-man show, yes—one that requires, and here receives, an exceptional man to helm it.

(Photo: Pavel Antonov)