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In Pagosa play, madness and obsession reign

Between Macbeth and Thomas Magill there’s a certain madness.

The question is: What’s the difference between a man who kills for personal ambition and one obsessed by a soiled Eden?

This weekend, the MET Live in HD opened its season with a stark modern staging of Verdi’s “Macbeth” opera. From the overture to its bloody end, obsession reigned.

You could say the same for Enda Walsh’s spellbinding play “Misterman,” a new Irish drama that opened the Pagosa Springs’ Performing Arts Center’s 2014-15 season.

Thingamajig Theatre Co. in Pagosa Springs has boldly chosen a new work about madness to give the Colorado premiere after successful presentations in New York, London and Ireland.

“Misterman” continues a form of Irish storytelling about life in a small rural village. But it is not a descendant of the famous 1888 W.B. Yeats poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Instead, it plays against the sentimental images of village life as they have appeared in poetry, prose and film.

“Misterman” is part of an Irish new-wave that includes the black comedies of Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, and to a degree Marie Jones’ “Stones in His Pockets.” The shadow side of village life is not hidden.

Featuring New York-based Equity Actor Craig MacArthur, seen last spring in “Red,” and the recorded voice of Olivia Dukakis, “Misterman,” tells the story of a young Irishman struggling with insanity. MacArthur plays Thomas Magill, whose father has died and whose aging mother (Dukakis) needs tending. Like many villagers, she appears as a disembodied voice on a recording device, one of many Magill keeps in his cluttered, claustrophobic quarters.

Using technology for dialogue is not a new trope. It brings to mind Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.” And on the broader spectrum of works about insanity, including Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground,” “Misterman” is convincing in its evocation of intense inner turmoil.

From a frenzied opening sequence where Magill rushes into his lair, the story unfolds. Magill talks to himself, to his tapes, and when he ventures outside, actor MacArthur’s character plays both parts in numerous encounters.

Unpredictable noises abruptly intrude. Unexpected responses expose his pitiful efforts to connect. And his ongoing, often lyrical efforts to praise his God counter everything he experiences.

Unlike the Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who played Magill in Dublin, London and New York, MacArthur does not appear in Jesus sandals and socks but is neatly dressed in pressed pants and a buttoned-up plaid shirt, his hair neatly combed. All that unravels as the play races toward an ending where apparent chaos rises to a startling conclusion.

The play, directed by Melissa Firlit, is performed without intermission. This is a rare opportunity to see a splendid performance by an emerging American actor in a gripping new Irish play. “Misterman” continues with seven more performances through Nov. 2.

For information call 970-731-7469 or check www.pagosacenter.org.

jreynolds@durangoherald.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.

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