Two people faced with the exact same circumstances – debt, depression, divorce – could react in completely different ways. One muddles through, and the other commits suicide. As for the latter, who knows why?
One of New York’s 7th annual Origin’s 1st Irish Festival Theatre offerings, “Man in the Moon” by Pearse Elliot, wisely does not try to answer that question. Instead, Elliot gives us one man, Sean Doran (Ciaran Nolan, brilliant), who recounts scraps of stories and bits of histories of people he has loved who have taken their own lives: two brothers, a local vagrant, a woman he admired from afar. He tells us his own story as well, from a bench by Half Moon Lake in Belfast, Northern Ireland: a favorite spot of suicides.
Reviewing “Man in the Moon” is a little bit tricky because come to find out, it was a full- length play complete with intermission, but was necessarily cut down by 45 minutes to fit the festival’s running schedule. However, as it stands, this play has some hilarious parts: there is an Edinburgh film premier mix up; a lion living it up in a forest, and at one point, Elvis is in the house. There are poignant moments of memory, and the selection and use of music is terrific. Tony Devlin has directed beautifully; he gets movement, fluidity and atmosphere just right.
But the star here is Ciaran Nolan’s Sean.
Nolan is truly extraordinary. Every emotion his character feels registers on Nolan’s face; from the moment he walks onto the stage, you know exactly what kind of man he is and where he’s at, which is the opposite of the cheerful song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys that ushers him in. Energetic, funny, all rubbery limbs and crotch-grabs, he runs from sad sack to misogynist to lost in a world he no longer wants to be a part of but can’t escape. Or, chooses not to.
There are missteps. Sean needs a more credible job than street hawker of a questionable charity, particularly when there are solid ones like Oxfam around. That part reminded me of volunteers with clipboards on New York City sidewalks for any given cause, “volunteers” being the operative word. Sean may eschew the responsibilities of adulthood, but he lived with a woman and had a child: he had to support them somehow, albeit temporarily.
Also it is not necessary for Sean to tell us that he is lonely and has got nothing to go home to. Why? Because Nolan does such a good job showing this already: in his comportment, and in that expressive face. The words are redundant.
I would have liked more stories about the people we don’t see – Joe, for example – in order for that connection to make more of an impact.
But please, for God’s sake, don’t let that stop you from seeing this terrific play with this performer. “Man in the Moon” deserves to go further than this festival, and reach a wider audience. And I hope it does.