In truth, I loved Misterman so much I’m terrified to write about it. Because I feel certain I’m going to fuck this up. It doesn’t seem possible I will ever be able to do justice to the experience with my words.
But I have to try. Because you cannot miss Misterman, which is playing at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO through December 22nd. If you do, you will regret it.
I’ll start from the top—on its most basic level, Misterman is a 90 minute monologue. Cillian Murphy plays Thomas Magill, a religious zealot/prophet trapped on the fringes of a town he is both terrified of, and violently desperate to save. He also plays—nay, inhabits—all of the townspeople of Inishfree whom Thomas comes across in his day.
As it unfolds, Misterman feels both quintessentially Irish, and, as with much of playwright/director Enda Walsh’s work, invested in kicking apart the walls of what is considered quintessentially Irish. As a long time student of Irish literature and drama—who once lived in Ireland for a spell—watching Misterman gave me the overwhelming sense that something had just come alive before me. That years and years of academic pursuit had taken shape in Thomas Magill. It took my breath away.
But perhaps the most powerful thing about Misterman is that it doesn’t require an education in Irish literature or culture to be compelling, to grab you by the shirt collar and drag you along with Thomas on his bleak journey. If you appreciate remarkable performances, this is your show.
Because Cillian Murphy is giving a performance of epic, mind-melting proportions. Of Mark Rylance in Jerusalem proportions. Of he-should-win-all-the-awards-ever proportions. Days later I still cannot believe how towering his talent is, how completely he embodied so very many characters in one night.
Which is to say nothing of Mr.Walsh—who also wrote the book for the new musical Once, which opened this week at the New York Theater Workshop. Misterman is a masterwork. Walsh’s ability to breathe life into a village of characters with nothing but words, to create so many distinct voices within his writing, is nothing short of incredible. I know, I’m essentially saying he’s great at writing dialogue. And that may seem unremarkable, but trust me—I’ve seen playwrights fail at this more often than I’d care to admit (as recently as last Friday, when I saw the truly terrible Wild Animals You Should Know). Walsh succeeds so profoundly it’s staggering.
But unless you witness Misterman I’m not sure I can properly articulate the feat he has achieved. Or how beautiful his partnership with Cillian Murphy truly is. How completely they have created this town of Inishfree together—this stagnant, waking nightmare of a world that Thomas Magill inhabits.
Photo: Pavel Antonov