I emerged Saturday night from the Dance Loft on 14th certain of several things. Firstly, that one of the most dangerous things in the world is a young, isolated, ideology-obsessed male. Secondly, that it’s a very good thing for DC that Solas Nua is producing theatre again. Thirdly, that Thomas Keegan is one hell of an actor.
With the return of Solas Nua’s theatrical wing comes bracing contemporary Irish theatre. At least judging from the selections I’ve seen over the years, Ireland had an amazing run in the 90’s and 00’s of smaller companies creating edgy, electric, character-driven and actor-centered drama indebted to Beckett as much as O’Casey and Synge. Solas Nua can mine this vein for many years to come, and DC’s arts scene will again be the richer for it.
Tommy Magill is a ragged, isolated, intense young man fanatically devoted to street-corner evangelism, squatting in an abandoned industrial space in the small town of Inishfree. Everybody knows him and he know them, cataloging their various sins in his notebook as they patronize him at best or mock him at worst. He is surrounded by radios and cassette recorders (a nod to Krapp’s Last Tape), some of which seem to have minds of their own, that carry the voices of the other townspeople, or he impersonates them himself.
closes December 9, 2017
Details and tickets
Tommy seems a harmless crank at first, an innocent – some patronize him as “a living saint” – but once he picks up the hurling bat in Eamon’s garage, the tone darkens in a hurry and we know that things will not end well.
There are Tommy Magills everywhere, from Isla Vista to Afghanistan, “cats in a town full of dogs.” Societal outliers with a fanatical obsession of one kind or another, perhaps on the autism spectrum, perhaps a victim of abuse or neglect, perhaps a physical or mental handicap, the ones that the ‘normals’ avoid or mock. A fire burns within them – to belong, to be noticed, to be reckoned with – that must manifest itself somewhere, as a cursory glance at contemporary headlines will confirm.
Thomas Keegan bursts onstage with a nervy energy that sustains itself until the final blackout. Wiry, wide-eyed, awkward, dressed in a ragged sweater vest and too-short trousers, sneakers held together with duck tape, he grabs your attention. It’s a masterful tour-de-force performance. In the hands of a lesser actor, it could lapse into melodrama, caricature, or screechy hysteria, but he humanizes Magill as well as providing the other townspeople with distinct physical and vocal choices.
Misterman, in my mind, is the best kind of theatre. Although actor-focused, director Rex Daugherty and his design team continually surprise and delight with wonderfully theatrical moments and a set full of clever details, the contents of the garbage can and the material of the cross in particular. By the end, the stage is a wreck, Tommy is a wreck, and the audience has gone on a thrilling roller coaster ride.
Also noteworthy: this is Solas Nua’s first production in the Dance Loft on 14, indeed the first theatrical performance in the space. The neighborhood is north of Columbia Heights and has yet to be gentrified to death. There are a number of small restaurants and cafés within a block or two that I’m sure would appreciate your patronage before or after the show.
Misterman by Enda Walsh. Directed by Rex Daugherty. Cast: Thomas Keegan. Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Melissa Reed. Sound Design: Neil McFadden. Lighting Design: Marianne Meadows. Scenic Design: Jimmy Stubbs. Assistant Props Designer: Patrick Cavanagh. Produced by Solas Nua. Review by John Geoffrion