As mentioned in last week’s blog, Mikel Murfi is creating sheer theater magic in two solo performances at the Irish Arts Center through late October. The Man In The Woman’s Shoes and I Hear You and Rejoice dramatize the eloquence to be found in words whether spoken, written or thought. Fair enough, you might be thinking, as both performances depend upon storytelling. What you need to know at this moment, however, is that our central storyteller, Patrick “Pat” Francis Farnon, is mute. How is that possible, you ask, when I have just explained that Pat is the central narrator in both solo performances? Through a bit of theater magic, of course. Pat tells us that it is only we the audience who can actually hear the articulate eloquence swirling around in his mind or who can have access to his mind’s thoughts.
What else do we need to know about Pat? He is particularly adept at creating the sounds that surround him and so we hear a particularly obstreperous chicken, the nervous bleating of sheep, the cacophony of the neighboring dog’s barking in the early morning hours since Dinner Downes, the dog, thinks of himself as a rooster, and the whistling sounds of the birds that surround the cottage.
You also need to know that Pat is the village’s cobbler. Holding out a pair of black, brass-buckled women’s shoes, he explains that he has just finished repairing them and is about to walk the five miles into town to deliver the shoes to the formidable Kitsy Rainey, manager of the village’s football team who needs the shoes this very day for a match (you see, she eschews wearing cleats while managing the team on the field). After showing us Kitsy’s shoes, our narrator then puts them on his own feet, explaining that he will walk the five miles into town so he can stretch the shoes out for her.
And there we have the reason for the title as well as the conceit for the next portion of the performance because during the next 30 minutes, Pat, wearing a woman’s shoes, walks in place and runs into various people like Jimmy with the high-pitched voice and the village priest offering both Jimmy and Pat a ride. It is during this walk that we also learn that Pat is a keeper of stories about the people who live there and the traditions they keep like telling the bees when a person has died.
What you also need to know about Pat is that despite not having access to words either in their written or spoken formats, Pat loves words as do the people around him. Hubie, for example, has a penchant for saying words like “prescience.” Hubie, it must be noted, though he dresses spiffily according to town standards, is not exactly sophisticated as becomes clear when he pronounces “prescience” “PRE-SCIENCE.” But as Murfi performs Hubie’s wide-eyed enjoyment of enunciating the word, it soon becomes clear that Hubie is also in love with words and in love with the idea of making us aware of how you can discover the meaning of a complicated-sounding word just by highlighting its component parts.
Later, when Pat gets to the football match and pays for his two oranges, he tells us that his life changes forever. After noting that it is not a big change, but a change nonetheless, Pat goes on to explain that the seller, after offering him the two oranges, says “here are two balls of juice” and though he can’t read or write or speak, Pat thinks this is what it must be to write poetry and to use words to transform the mundane and everyday so that something you see all the time like an orange becomes a bowl of juice.
The most important thing we need to know about Pat, however, is that he is in love with Kitsy Rainey.
Upon arriving in the village by foot (Pat is an inveterate walker and has turned the priest’s offer for a ride down), Pat goes to mass where we meet the bishop with the booming voice but not as booming as the parishioner’s who screams out the “Our Father” in a kind of competition. Pat then goes to the village café to eat a meal, and finally he arrives at the momentous football match managed by Kitsy Rainey her ownself and not a moment too soon because she is about to begin the match and needs her dress shoes to do so. After pointedly telling Pat “I’ll speak to you after the match,” we watch as Kitsy presides over a game that entails one too many complaints from spectators, resulting in Kitsy throwing first one and then the other shoe at the hecklers (Jimmy and Hubie).
Pat and Kitsy, however, turn out to be a match made in heaven. They are two adults of a certain age, used to and liking being loners or eccentrics, who are beginning to realize that as Kitsy says “they’re starting to take us from our pens” and that perhaps it would be nice to spend their remaining years in each other’s company. Kitsy tells Pat, “You’re the man who can fill these shoes,” and then SHE asks HIM for his hand in marriage.
What you need to know about Mikel Murfi, the actor channeling all of these individuals, is that he transforms from Pat to Hubie to Jimmy to Kitsy to Pat again seamlessly. Murfi hunches his head down into his shoulders to become Hubie of the no-neck or raises the pitch of his voice for Jimmy or pulls at his “bra” first under one arm, then under the next and finally right down the center to signify Kitsy. Murfi also helps to populate the stage, so to speak, with three (four if you count the bright pink bedroom slippers that appear at the end of the performance as the sign that Pat has accepted Kitsy’s proposal as well as gift of the pink bedroom slippers)) different pairs of shoes, including Kitsy’s black flats with brass buckles, Pat’s cobbler boots, and Hubie’s loafers newly equipped with wood lifts at the tips so Hubie can reach the pedals of his car. But mostly what you need to know about Mikel Murfi is that he has a way with words and with storytelling and if you’re like the two audiences I was with, you will find yourself mesmerized by him, and, perhaps most important, by the individuals (definitely not caricatures) to whom he introduces you.