Actor, author and playwright Martin Moran brings his two autobiographical solo shows — ‘The Tricky Part’ and its followup, ‘All the Rage’ — to Two River Theater beginning this weekend in a special engagement entitled ‘A Map of the Soul.’
By TOM CHESEK
When the figurative curtain comes up on the next mainstage offering from Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company, there will be not one but two new productions commandeering the Rechnitz auditorium — both of them one-man showcases, and both of them drawn from the life experiences of their creator and star, Martin Moran.
The actor who’s entertained Broadway crowds in such merry diversions as “Monty Python’s Spamalot” garnered an Obie award and some significant critical acclaim in 2004, when he stepped in front of an Off Broadway audience with a highly personal, frankly confessional piece entitled “The Tricky Part.” Adapted from his own memoir of the same name, it seized upon an emotionally scarring experience from the author’s youth — a years-long sexual relationship with an adult counselor at a Catholic boys’ camp — recasting it as the impetus for a “journey to forgiveness” that would come to define much of Moran’s adult life.
Nearly ten years later, Moran would stand again before Off Broadway audiences (and reunite with his “Tricky Part” director, Seth Barrish) with a new piece called “All the Rage” — a spirited meditation on rage and reaction and compassion that sprang from Q&A sessions with his audiences at the earlier play.
“A Map of the Soul” is the title given to Moran’s current project at Two River, an engagement that combines 19 performances of “Tricky” with seven shows of “Rage.” Kicking off with a round of previews that begin this Saturday night, October 26, it’s a demanding schedule that finds the Denver-born Moran delivering both pieces as a double-feature theatrical experience on November 3, 10 and 17.
The Drama Desk at redbankgreen spoke to Martin Moran about hard work, long journeys, and challenging choices.
redbankgreen: Given that ALL THE RAGE had a fairly recent run Off Broadway, is this the first time that both plays have been packaged together under an umbrella title? And would the suggestion then be that the plays are meant to be considered together, or do you view each as a stand-alone piece?
MARTIN MORAN: It is the first time they’ve been performed together; the first time for the title ‘A Map of the Soul.’ And it’s absolutely the first time that I’ve had the notion of doing both in one day.
On some fundamental level, both pieces deal with the same questions…they have resonance together, but they are each full experiences, pieces on their own. ‘All the Rage’ is more physical, with some humor in it, whereas ‘The Tricky Part’ is much more about language. But I hope that the pieces are universal to the audience, and not seen as something that’s just specific to me.
You’re working once again with Seth Barrish, who directed GODOT at Two River several seasons back. How much of a part has he played in the development of what’s become A MAP OF THE SOUL?
I’ve worked with Seth closely for over a decade now, and he’s had a tremendous amount to do with ‘The Tricky Part’ coming to the stage. We have a shorthand, working together, and nine seasons later we’re still finding new ways to be fascinated and excited about this.
This has to seem an obvious question, but is there a therapeutic aspect to your telling this very personal story; does the act of getting up before an audience and sharing it become a crucial component of what you’ve called the journey to forgiveness?
I felt terror talking about it at first. But it was something I had to do, to make a piece of art around it…something provocative and beautiful; something to offer my fellow human beings. Having been violated as I had been, I felt the need to respond to what happened; to understand what it is to forgive.
I am fascinated by the idea of forgiveness; why we might reach out in compassion at any given moment, as easily as we do in rage. We’re capable of such gracious love…and we’re capable of not being so gracious.
The appearance of the companion play, almost ten years after the first one, suggests that the story still hasn’t been told in its entirety. Would you characterize ALL THE RAGE as a continuation, or a reaction to how people perceived THE TRICKY PART…a reaction to a reaction?
That’s a good way of putting it; the impulse behind the second piece is that it began as a reaction to a reaction…something that grew out of the talk-backs with the audience from the first play. They would ask, ‘why aren’t you more angry?,’ and it actually started to piss me off! It got me thinking that maybe I am angry, and don’t know it. Maybe I’m avoiding it. So in the process of inviting questions about my work, it opened up into a larger journey.
It’s interesting that the book THE TRICKY PART begat the stage play, whereas you’re reported to be working on a book inspired by ALL THE RAGE. And did I catch that title correctly?
The working title of the book is ‘Analphabet’ — which is a real word! It’s also the former title of ‘All the Rage,’ and it’s a word meaning without alphabet; illiterate, unknowing.
I have to think that your story strikes a chord in a good many people who read it or see it performed…people who might have shared similar experiences, but weren’t able to articulate their feelings as you could. Do you get the sense that you pass people in the street each day who could benefit from this?
This kind of story; this sense that part of your past is broken, ruined, whether by abuse, loss, war, violence…it’s something that a lot of people carry around with them. It’s important to understand that it’s part of your story, it’s who you are, and it’s possible to transcend it, for the crucible to become gold.
Getting back to that struggle between rage and compassion…does it seem to you that rage is more than ever the coin of the realm these days, in matters of politics and public discourse? Does America run on rage?
The place we live in is a place of complexity, and we don’t always get that from the news, the tabloids, the way we comment on things…it’s easier to go to black-and-white than to see that complexity, and it’s easier in the short term to use anger as your go-to response. But there’s an empathy underneath it all; a different way of looking at the other person, and that choice between rage and empathy continues to fascinate me.
It may have taken you a good portion of your life, but you did manage to find that path to forgiveness…so what of the other side of this story? Did the guy that you strove to forgive ever come to grips with what he did, to the extent that he ever really sought your forgiveness?
In a way, I don’t think he ever understood what he did…it’s something that has to do with his illness; his lack of awareness.
They say that forgiveness is to give up all hope of having had a better past. We all need to learn to forgive; to move on; to be able to live in the here and now.
“The Tricky Part” goes up in previews on Saturday, October 26; opening on Friday, November 1 and running through November 17 with a mix of matinee and evening performances. Performances of “All the Rage” are scheduled for November 3, 10, 13 and 15-17. Tickets ($20 – $65 adults) and details on special performances can be obtained by taking it here.