In the words of Kris Weber, the director of Misterman, there needs to be art that explores mental illness in a powerful, fair, and non-stereotypical fashion. Theatre is one of the best ways to explore these themes, as through strong acting, effective use of sound and props, and hard-hitting writing, plays can be used to truly highlight the sufferings of the mentally ill. This Misterman does exceptionally well – the audience was in a state of overwhelmed silence at the end because of how powerful the play was.
It’s a profoundly sad story in a profoundly good and “gutsy” (to quote Weber again) play.
The acting was superb. There is no other way to describe it – the intensity, emotion, and delivery was able to bring the audience along into the story in an effective manner that brought the entire thing to life. Travis Handcock does a superb job bringing the audience into the world of Thomas Magill, a man who from the outset is shown to hear voices, and appear to be quite ill. Handcock’s acting really highlights the unstable and emotional, yet piercingly astute, nature of religious mania and mental illness, and he makes the face very human in an inhuman situation. Even messed up lines (there was always going to be one or two in a play of this magnitude) were easily covered up and barely noticeable – in fact they complimented the character. And his Irish accent was solid as well.
The story itself was brilliant in its ability to make a simple day-in-the-life of Thomas Magill, an odd and religious fanatic in the Irish town of Inishfree, but with the twists and turns to make it become more disjointed as the play progressed. Although, from the outset, the audience knew something wasn’t right – the play opened with Thomas standing on a crate holding a frying pan and an egg after all. The story also gives Thomas’s character depth that is not often explored for mentally ill people – although he is a deeply warped individual, he is not unsympathetic, and has a sharp and accurate ability to diagnose many of the town’s ills.
It’s a tragedy of the highest order that such a switched-on mind is so damaged in many ways, and Misterman handles it very well.
The overall effect of “something isn’t right” was helped along by the props and sound effects. The intimacy of having a single actor with almost no space between the audience and the action removed any boundaries between performer and audience, which was a nice touch. Throughout the play, various sounds came from a variety of speakers around the room, giving the show a very immersive feeling. The setup – in a dimly lit church with a plastic tarp floor and scattered “poor theatre” props – made for both compelling props for the story as well as possibly a metaphor for the broken and fallible nature of Thomas’ mind. The lighting was effective at drawing attention to – or away – from each “scene”, and set the mood effectively as well.
Heads up though, if you have epilepsy the flashing lights might be an issue at one stage. However, this was the only criticism that can be leveled against the sound and lighting team, whose heroic efforts matched the actor’s.
This is the sort of theatre that needs to be produced, and Weber should be commended on her sterling efforts, along with her team, and of course Handcock’s excellent performance. The overall blend of all the elements makes Misterman a show to see.
Misterman is produced by FizzWack and is on at the Bluestone Church Arts Space 21 November to 2 December at 8pm and select matinee performances. Check the FizzWack website for times, dates and tickets.