A MAP OF THE SOUL: Intimate, Conversational Experiences at Two River Theater Company

by Tyler Plosia

The one-man show is to present-day theater what the web series is to present-day film: the cost of production is so limited that their respective industries have embraced the forms with welcome arms.  There are similar concerns about quality, too, which pervade the viewership of both forms; “ease of production” can sometimes be code for “lacking in artistic merit.”

In the case of THE TRICKY PART and ALL THE RAGE (now being performed in repertory at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ under the umbrella title A MAP OF THE SOUL), the performer is Martin Moran, and most concerns about the quality of the shows can be quelled by citing the extent of his experience.  He has a long relationship with the stage, both in Broadway musicals and regional theater, but he’s become known for his one-man plays later in his career.

There is a confessional quality to THE TRICKY PART, an autobiographical account of Moran’s personal history with sexual abuse which was first performed in 2004 and earned its creator an Obie award.  And the play’s confessions make thematic sense, as Moran’s Catholic upbringing factors heavily into his performance of the twelve-year-old Martin.

At a pivotal moment in the piece, Moran (now in his fifties), vocalizes a private prayer he’d made back when he was twelve, just moments after the first time he was molested.  “God,” he begs, “please.  Let this be our secret.  Just ours.”

Martin Moran in THE TRICKY PART at Two River Theater Company. (Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Of course, by performing THE TRICKY PART all over the country (as well as internationally, on occasion), the story of Moran’s difficult childhood is now just about the opposite of a secret.  It’s hard not to think of the cathartic potential of retelling the story over and over, as if maybe the impact of it is being dulled by endless repetition.  But like the silence in which twelve-year-old Moran’s prayer initially existed, THE TRICKY PART is a relatively quiet play about a topic that could easily incite fury.

Its companion piece, ALL THE RAGE, was penned in 2013 in part because Moran was often asked the question (in response to THE TRICKY PART and the abusive past it deals with): “where’s all your anger?”  His interest in eastern philosophy permeates the text of ALL THE RAGE, which is largely about combining the pleasurable with the painful, reconciling the scarring with the forgivable.  While RAGE is less emotionally extreme than THE TRICKY PART, Moran covers a more disparate series of experiences in the former; between the two, there is ample opportunity to demonstrate serious acting range.

Both plays are intimate, conversational experiences, and not only because of the based-on-truth stories being told.  In THE TRICKY PART, Moran comes out and directly engages audience members, the house lights still blaring overhead.  And in ALL THE RAGE, he does all of the lighting and prop work himself.  The content of the plays may not always be easy, but Martin Moran does everything within his power to turn his monologues to dialogues.

Written and Performed by Martin Moran
Directed by Seth Barrish
October 26 – November 17, 2013
Two River Theater Company
21 Bridge Avenue
Red Bank, NJ 07701

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