If you are lucky enough to see the Irish actor, Mikel Murfi, perform The Man In The Woman’s Shoes or I Hear You And Rejoice, you will see an Irish village and its inhabitants, including a cobbler named Patrick “Pat” Francis Farnon, a female football (soccer) manager named Kitsy Haines, various football team members, a priest, a waitress, Paschal Lamb, so named because of being born at Easter, several locals and a dog, chickens, sheep, birds AND bees come to life before your very eyes in the person of one man, Mikel Murfi.
It is an astonishing feat and Mikel Murfi is a wondrous storyteller. Indeed I am tempted to say that to watch Mr. Murfi on the stage is to experience the essence of theater. I have highlighted his talent before in my blog, but not in near enough detail since too much time had passed between the time I first saw his solo performance in 2015 and the time I started this blog in late 2017. But fortunately this is about to change because he’s back back in NYC through the end of October thanks to the Irish Arts Center and he’s performing not one but two solo performances in rotating repertory: a reprisal of The Man In The Woman’s Shoes and a new piece entitled I Hear You And Rejoice. So, because I went to both performances this past week, I am about to regale you with the specifics of why you owe it to yourself to see him in action.
If I could, I would spend the next four weeks going to each and every one of his performances and then I would follow him to his hometown in Ireland. He’s that good. He’s that human. He’s that able to manifest humanity on the stage.
Murfi’s talent, contrary to what the New York Times critic says in a seemingly positive review that rather damns with faint praise (and if you’ve been following and reading my blog, you also know that I have a hate/hate relationship with the established New York theater critics), does NOT consist of his ability to be “imitative” nor does it rely upon the “caricaturing of…fellow citizens.”
If you come out of either performance thinking that what you have seen is a mimic quite good at caricature then you have missed the point entirely. Worse, you have cheated yourself of watching humanity unfold itself in all of its complexity before your very eyes on stage.
Murfi gives voice, words, heart, soul and spirit to his characters and to his stories. Literally. Here’s how:
First, what you need to know before I describe what happens in the performance is a little bit about the creative process leading up to the two performances. In his playbill note, Murfi explains that both performances came out of interviews conducted with folks from older age groups in Sligo County, Ireland. Murfi was commissioned by his local theatre in Ireland to “celebrate creativity as we age.” So, he met with lots of people from retirement homes, history groups, active age groups and so on and drank lots of tea, and listened and listened and listened. Then, Murfi gathered the stories together and through some miraculous distillation created two solo performances that channel the spirit of the people with whom he shared so much time.
The Man in the Woman’s Shoes begins simply and almost without words. An elderly man walks in with hands clasped together behind his back (Murfi with whitened hair and stooped body, dressed in trousers with suspenders, a white button down shirt and tie), delivers a simple statement, telling us it all happened on a day in 1978, and then turns his back on the audience so he can set the stage for the story he is about to tell: he walks to the back of the stage and with his two hands outlines a large rectangle which tells us that there is a door there and then he moves slightly to the right and outlines a smaller square and then moving to the left, he outlines another smaller square creating windows. If you are thinking to yourself right now that such mimed actions from a figure with exaggeratedly whitened hair and stooped body seems artificial and not terribly real then you have forgotten what the power of storytelling can do and you have not met Mr. Murfi. Everyone who’s been in a kindergarten class and has been asked to draw a house, knows that all you have to do to create a believable house, no matter how squiggly your lines or how outrageous your colors, is to draw a rectangle for the door and two squares on either side of it for the windows. I am hooked and immediately suspend my disbelief so that I can enter Murfi’s world entirely.
Be on the lookout for another blog post describing this wondrous world in more detail.