‘Man in the Moon’ lands between comedy and tragedy


via 1stirish.org

Theater is at its best when it tells the truth, and if “Man in the Moon” is anything, it is painfully honest. Featured at Origin Theatre Company’s seventh annual First Irish play festival — “the world’s only all Irish theatre festival” — Pearse Elliott’s semiautobiographical script manifests as a pitch black comedy about suicide in Belfast.

Ciaran Nolan stars as Sean Doran in this one-man show, performing on a stage that is bare except for a lonely park bench. Over an hour and a half, Sean sits, slumps, stands and dances on this bench, recounting the good old days, which he spent with friends in the very same park.

Yet he is haunted by the untimely deaths of his young comrades, many of whom took their own lives.

Tragedy is layered with comedy, revealing that Sean’s life has taught him to hope for the best and expect the worst. Elliott presents the topic of suicide with due seriousness, but that is not to say there are no light moments. Sean is a man who has faced extreme hardship and still does not know how to appropriately respond, but Nolan’s sincere delivery excuses any lines that seem too lewd or too harsh.

As Sean traipses down memory lane, he takes on the voices of multiple characters, showing us the ghosts of relationships past.

Among the deceased are friends, family members and community legends, all of whom had lived their truncated lives in the park where Sean now sits — a park which has seen better days itself.

There is a miniscule flicker of hope in Sean, but Nolan’s portrayal is mostly suffused in grief, anger and incredulity. He stubbornly refuses to succumb to the destructive force that overtook most of his acquaintances, and the ending of the show surprises no one more than Sean himself.

There are innumerable black box theaters in New York City, many of which go unnoticed or even unused. “Man in the Moon,” presented by Brassneck Theatre Company, is proof that productions do not have to be flashy or star-studded to be affecting. No matter how narrow or how small the audience, which numbered somewhere around a dozen members last weekend, theater aims to reach its viewers, and it would be near impossible not to be moved by this candid show.

Though most of us are hopefully not so intimately acquainted with suicide as the playwright, this play does a wonderful service by opening up discussion on such a morbid subject. It may sound like a depressing premise, but “Man in the Moon” is a play much more about living than it is about dying.

“Man in the Moon” is playing at the Times Square Arts Center, 300 W. 43rd Street, through Sept. 28.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 17 print edition. Email Clio McConnell at [email protected]