Consider Enda Walsh’s harrowing “Misterman,” another play (with “New Electric Ballroom” and “The Walworth Farce”) about people whose response to tragedy is to relive, over and over again, the last few moments of their lives that were worth living. One-man show stars Nolan “Batman” franchise thesp and frequent Walsh collab Cillian Murphy, but the wondrously offbeat production hardly fits the kill-me-I’m-Irish solo show mold.
With venue St. Ann’s Warehouse hollowed out to cavernous extremes, the vast set becomes both a playground and a torture chamber in which Murphy’s gratingly pious character does penance for a climactic crime, using a half-dozen reel-to-reel tape players recreating his last few days of sanity. Bravura perf coupled with Walsh’s out-of-town cred make for significant touring prospects in smaller venues — both “Walworth” and “Ballroom” have done regional biz post-St. Ann’s.
Murphy, whose work with Walsh extends as far back as Walsh’s 1996 play “Disco Pigs” (and the subsequent film adaptation), manages to bring both depth and breadth to a highwire act of a performance. His main character, Thomas Magill, is an insufferably churchy mama’s boy from the fictional Irish town of Innisfree. In the play, he might still be there, and he might not; one gets the sense that he rarely leaves the echoey confines (warehouse? aircraft hangar?) where he’s stashed his audio equipment and is replaying reel after reel of his encounters with Innisfreemen, who for the most part didn’t take kindly to Thomas’s zeal.
“Where’s the harm in the odd ‘fuck’ or the occasional ‘ya dirty old cunt?'” demands frequent pub ejectee Dwain. But this is the wonder of Murphy’s performance: you almost don’t notice that he’s playing Dwain, as well. It’s hard to keep track — I had to return to the script to make sure — but Murphy speaks to the tape recorders about half the time, and to himself the other half, botching encouter after encounter with townsfolk who finally pull a practical joke on him that goes unsurprisingly, awfully wrong.
Every once in a while, he mutters something under his breath (“organ” just before taped organ music comes in), as though he’s rehearsing and will eventually have all of these parts memorized. Once, horrifyingly, a tape recorder corrects him when he flubs a line.
The sound design deserves special kudos here — Gregory Clarke has written an incredible set of cues and layered them all so that some appear to come from the tape players, some from the inside of Thomas’s head, and some from actual dogs outside the building (probably not, but it’s quite convincing). Rarely have tech aspects and performance merged to create such a weirdly compelling and unified vision of one guy’s decomposing mind.