In a limited run fund-raiser for Joseph Stern’s Matrix Theatre, noted Scottish actor Brian Cox is re-creating his award-winning one-person outing in Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s meandering foray into the mind of a boozy, misanthropic Dublin theater critic who is wallowing within a thoroughly self-indulgent midlife crisis. Cox, who won the Lucille Lortel Award for his performance of this work at Off Broadway’s Primary Stages, transcends the play, providing a rip-roaring portrayal of a disreputable and dissolute soul whose only claim to substance is his bottomless self-loathing.
As he rationalizes the low and very low incidents of his existence, Cox’s theater critic wends his way through and around the audience and bare stage area as if never to provide a stationary target for rebuke. Occasionally, he engages an audience member directly like a stranger in a bar whom he has no regard for yet can’t help trying to impress.
Through it all, this hack journalist readily proclaims his own mediocrity. On his ethics as a critic he admits, “I had never taken the care to form an opinion. I just had them.” He then proudly states his lack of respect for almost everything he ever saw, relating how he quite often wrote a review on the back of a program before the play was over. Cox attains a hilarious level of gleeful malevolence as his critic gloats about attending opening-night parties where he would “drink with the cast, ruin their careers and get paid for it.”
McPherson’s work is at its best when delving into the inner workings of this critic’s psyche, foraging through the vast, haunting insecurities of a man who is relentlessly required to fill newspaper columns while lacking the aesthetic and empathetic equipment to truly understand what he is doing. That he is successful and respected drives him ever deeper into a despair that precludes love of self or family.
The playwright goes astray when he attempts to lead the critic out of his purgatorial existence into a middle-aged infatuation with a young actress, whose play he has trashed yet is compelled to follow to London. Made plausible only by the captivating, multi-leveled story-telling abilities of Cox, McPherson takes the critic through some tedious blood-letting adventures with a sextet of young, upscale vampires whose lack of morality and intellectual substance actually makes the critic feel better about his own lot in life.
J. Kent Inasy’s fluid lighting unobtrusively and effectively underscores the critic’s tawdry journey to self-discovery.