Tricycle, Kilburn, London, matinee
A Belfast production on the way to the West End. Two actors, male (program lost, alas), play a number of characters, male and female. A Hollywood film company is making a film in Kerry with dead and gone romantic characters, impersonated by a Hollywood star, et al. The locals are employed as extras. The man referred to in the title of the play is a depressive townsman who despairs, walks into the water, walks out again to fill his pockets with stones, and walks in again, never to emerge alive. We discover this event at the end of Act I, at which point the hilarious comedy of mime and impersonation turns bleak.
The “man” is a theme, we find, a figure for the hopelessness of this Kerry backwater, within view of the Blasketts; and the comedy is grounded in an attempt to transcend that hopelessness.
The Kerry town doesn’t do it, but the play itself does, by virtue of the two actors, who turn in transcendently good performances, moving instantaneously and effortlessly into and out of one character or another, then back to their “base” characters, two young men trying to make a go of it in the face of exterior and interior obstacles. The accents are flawless, as is the timing. A long row of pairs of shoes stretches the width of the stage at the bottom of the drop at the upper extremity, upon which is projected a constant scene of clouds and uncertain sky, familiar to anyone who has spent the day (or a lifetime) in Kerry. The shoes nicely symbolize the varied characters put on by the two hard-working, sweating actors, as well as suggesting the artificial, stereotyped townspeople who populate the film and lend local color.
Some of the reviews suggested that the play was made to bear too ponderous a thematic weight in the second act, but I don’t agree. In Irish life hilarity has its dispiriting underside. This play, like The Cripple of Inishmaan, takes off on the classic Irish man-against-the-elements film Man of Aran; in fact, an old man playing an extra says he played an extra in the filming of that earlier work. The reference lends an historical perspective that helps to ground the present play, but its burden, familiar and honestly addressed, finally doesn’t add to our understanding of the perennial Irish predicament. There are better, deeper plays about depression and suicide in the current Irish oeuvre; this one is carried, happily so, by the truly brilliant mimed representation of a multitude of characters, Irish and otherwise, who in aggregate make up a vivid microcosm of contemporary life.