Lost in the polarization of American political and spiritual life are the cumulative personal incidentals that lead to alterations in beliefs and behaviors. Yet it is in these sundry events that the seeds of vast change are planted. Capturing these details in the life of one man — a parts manager for an electronics company in southwest Denver — Alan Drury’s localized adaptation of his work “The Man Himself” (a longtime staple at London’s National Theater), puts a human face on the all too familiar evangelical conversions that are epidemic across the U.S.
In bringing Drury’s well-drawn portrait to life, Ami Dayan leaves no stone unturned, expanding the stage into the lobby of the theater prior to the show, where the audience finds flyers from the National Day of Prayer Task Force of Colorado Springs. This draws indignant remarks from the assembled, who are unaware of its origins.
Dayan’s character continues his work as the audience files in, assiduously adjusting the simple set pieces, which include a portable CD player, his company-issued uniform and a box from which he will extract a panoply of props to illustrate his story. At first, his warehouse worker is tentative — a man of few words, used to being alone with himself and his thoughts.
Slowly and deliberately, he begins to reveal himself and the common yet nevertheless poignant details of his life: his isolation from the co-workers who regard his clerical rigidity as Hitlerian; his growing friendship with a Christian fundamentalist, Richard, who finds his intolerance fertile ground for a born-again philosophy; his estrangement from his wife, who characterizes his inconspicuousness as a lack of passion.
Finally, when his marriage breaks down, he snaps, letting his anger come to the fore. He finishes his sixth cigarette in less than an hour by putting it out in the palm of his hand. “All I want to know is where I stand,” he says.
After the curtain call and still in character, The Man Himself confides that it was he who distributed the flyers found at the entrance to the theater.
As Dayan’s subtly drawn one-man, one-act ends, it becomes clear why he had placed the flyers in the lobby — to bring attention to our own prejudices and intolerance: How easy it was for his character to be pushed by gang violence and working-class travails into a life of pseudo-religious fanaticism; how easy it is for us to depersonalize him and his ilk.
Dayan is a master at drawing his audiences into the strange worlds that populate his work (such as the 2005 Helen Hayes-nominated “The Tale of the Tiger”). He maintains an edgy presence throughout the hour with tense movements and furtive eye contact, daring us to guess when his seething characterization will boil over.
Dayan next will take “The Man Himself” to Forum Theater & Dance in D.C., where he world premieres his newest piece, “UpShot,” Sept. 23.