One-person plays are risky ventures. Sure, the actor — who’s usually also the playwright — is putting himself out there, but the audience takes a risk as well.
If you don’t like this person, you have committed to an evening with him or her. And an evening of listening to someone you don’t like is one very long evening. Just think about an endless Thanksgiving dinner next to your brother’s braying new girlfriend.
Luckily “All The Rage,” opening Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, features the most charming Martin Moran. The play, cleverly directed by Seth Barrish, is a limited engagement until Feb. 25 at the upstairs black box space.
Moran wrote and stars in this work of nonfiction, which the program explains “is also the work of dreams and memory.” He’s a seasoned actor (Broadway’s “Spamalot” and “Cabaret”; TV’s “The Newsroom” and “The Big C”) who gives the audience a nakedly honest 90 minutes. He opens with a story about his father’s wife. “I never could say stepmother,” he muses.
Moran takes us from that conversation in Las Vegas, the morning of his father’s funeral, to not particularly fond memories of meeting her. He tells us of his brother, angry Dave; his mother, who used his father’s old military duffel bag as a punching bag in the garage; and of others who can get angrier easier and better than he does. But he does something far better: he forgives and brings greater meaning to his existence.
Moran tells of being sexually abused from the ages of 12 to 15 by a camp counselor. Moran had tackled this abuse in his book, “The Tricky Part,” and uses the story about the molester as a means to further this story.
“This flannel-wearing, mountain-climbing much-older guy named Bob. And in the end, ultimately the story, with all the hurt and chaos, my story was really about, you know, forgiveness. Compassion will set you free! Peace with the past, and I really thought I’d arrived at a moment in life, a kind of I’ve-written-a-thoughtful-three-hundred-page-book Zen moment. Worked it all out. Told the story. Closure. Liberty. Peace!”
Then he read the review of it in his hometown paper, which he says, “just unhinged, unmanned me. I was so embarrassed. Like I was being called out for missing an essential piece. For skipping, or basically being frightened of, anger. And actually, I get this a lot. Like when I perform the one-man play or read from the book, people will often ask: ‘Where is your anger?’ And, I got to tell you, it pisses me off. But as maddening as this question is, it has become a central riddle … obsession. I mean: Where is my anger?”
He takes us on a wonderful journey, ostensibly searching for his anger. He lives in upper Manhattan and winds up trying to volunteer for Doctors Without Borders, but does not have the skills they want. He is, though, fluent in French and that is put to good use as he translates for Siba, a man who escaped torture in Chad and seeks asylum in the United States.
Siba’s story is heartbreaking. Though Moran is supposed to only translate for him, serving as intermediary with doctors, Moran is far too sweet a man to remain indifferent.
Over the course of the play, he tells of Siba’s life, of trying to connect with his own brother, angry Dave, of working on Broadway and volunteering, of walking around Manhattan and taking in the sometimes-crazed streetscape, where so many people have no trouble expressing anger.
Though he eventually deals with Bob, who molested him, and comforts another man who had suffered Bob, Moran is not the sort who goes about telling off people.
He searches for anger but instead finds forgiveness.
At one point, he relays a dream in which the words “rehearsing consciousness” come to him. As a successful actor, Moran knows a lot about rehearsing, but he seems to know even more about consciousness, and that makes him something even better. It makes him a successful human being.