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All the Rage

Theatre Review by James Wilson - September 16, 2019

Martin Moran
Photo by Edward T. Morris

Last year, Martin Moran performed The Tricky Part, his deeply moving one-person play about sexual abuse. This fall Moran is back onstage with a revival of his solo play All the Rage, which in many ways takes up where the prior monologue ended. As with the previous work, All the Rage has lost none of its power and has gained greater resonance since it was last seen in New York. Six years after it first appeared, the play seems more urgent and necessary than ever.

Whereas The Tricky Part trains a laser-like focus on the circumstances surrounding the trauma inflicted on him as a child, the follow-up play appears to be much more discursive and circuitous. The evening begins straightforwardly enough as Moran explains that he is dying to describe a particular dream he has had. Before he can do so, however, he has to back up and provide context for the dream. In the process he shares a number of ostensibly unrelated stories (many of which are quite funny) about family, work, volunteer service, and a trip to South Africa.

He recounts, for instance, the experience of meeting his stepmother for the first time and being confronted by her at his father's funeral. He weaves an extended account of providing translation assistance for an African refugee, Siba, who is applying for political asylum status in the United States. There is also a poignant presentation of Moran's younger brother, who faced his own demons and created his own form of self-exile.

The collage of stories reflects a description posited by a South African tour guide, who triggers one of Moran's rare eruptions of rage. Unable to make sense of a road map, the guide explains that because of his lack of formal education his thinking is jumbled and chaotic. He tells the frustrated narrator, "You, you people . . . your minds are organized. You see these things. I never got my mind . . . organized." It seems to be an apt representation of Moran's episodically meandering monologue.

Yet, in a feat of poetic sleight-of-hand All the Rage ultimately coheres exquisitely. Throughout the play, Moran geographically locates the various stories on a globe, a map of Africa, and a New York City subway map. The stage accumulates the personal artifacts and topographical markers of Moran's anecdotes and encounters. By the end of the evening, the fragmented, expansive world of the play miraculously interconnects visually and thematically. The effect is akin to the image of Pangaea, or the prehistoric era in which all of the continents were joined together as "one earth."

While a few of the references feel a bit dated (such as an allusion to Sarah Palin), the piece is especially relevant in 2019. Managing rage, supporting immigrants, and cohabitating in a fractured world, for instance, have taken on new exigency and emotional importance. I had seen the play in its original production, but I don't recall wiping away tears and being overwhelmed with sadness as I was in the current iteration.

Directed by Seth Barrish (who is also the co-artistic director of the Barrow Group, which produced the show), Moran's performance is beautifully modulated. He is an exceedingly gifted storyteller, and he adroitly combines humor, pathos, and compassion as he moves through the various parts of his story. For a play about rage, there is a surprising gentleness in the delivery, and in the few moments Moran explodes with fury (sometimes for comical purposes), the impact is rattling.

Except for a stunning lighting effect near the end of the play (courtesy of Russell Champa, the lighting designer), the production is refreshingly simple. (Mark Wendland is credited with the scenic design and Leon Rothenberg the sound.) The projected images are achieved by the use of an opaque projector, which was cutting-edge technology in elementary schools of the 1970s. In its simplicity All the Rage is a reminder of the power of effective storytelling. Riven by anger and distrust, individuals across continental and familial divides can find common ground when they just pause to listen to one another.

All the Rage
Through October 5
The Barrow Group, 312 West 36th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix