Friday, January 31, 2014

Stand Up Man (in the Baby Grand until 8 February and then on tour)

Thaddeus McGuinn (played by Nick Hardin) knows about death – or at least dying on his feet – due to his line of business as a comic with a regular stand up spot at a New York club.

If his life had followed a difference course, he’d have been talking to a more appreciative audience at the front of a church. As an altar boy he “wanted to go to mass and watch the magic”. But between fencing communion wafers and marrying his pregnant girlfriend, his ever present conscience (Tim McGarry) is the only remnant of his Catholic past.

Stand Up Man’s simple two-level set doubles up as Thaddeus’ stage at the club as well as the kitchen and living room in his flat. The comic and his alcoholic, compulsive cleaning wife Maggie (Cathy Brennan-Bradley) argue and bicker. She longs for his touch even though he makes her skin crawl. They’re both stuck in a relationship that has neither love nor companionship.
“How am I supposed to be funny with all this suffering I go through?”

All the while alter ego Tim McGarry quietly sits in the corner reading the paper, his eyebrows acting overtime, throwing in quips before getting to his feet to challenge Thaddeus to a more robust course of action.
“You’re just a sad little man in a polyester suit that’s trying to be funny”

Spending ninety minutes inside the head of Thaddeus McGuinn isn’t a barrel of laughs. Derek Murphy’s tragic play is very dark. The central character is a shallow, self-centred, mean-spirited, odious man with neither a sense of self reflection nor any self respect. The kind of critter who doesn’t know the difference between a stand-up routine and a funeral eulogy.

A family funeral and the arrival of 26 year old son Buster (Kevin Patrick Keenan) lightens the mood at the beginning of the second half with some comedy moments amid the pain and disappointment before the play retreats to its dark place. Moments of sympathy between characters are overshadowed by their angst and conflict.

The cast are incredibly strong and convincing. There’s very strong language and a blokish obsession with big-breasted women throughout the play. If you’re going to the theatre for some light relief and expecting Tim McGarry to leave you with aching ribs and caustic one-liners, bear in mind that this is more tragedy than comedy. During the performance men in the audience laughed more than women. Yet if they learn anything from Thaddeus’ abhorrent example, men may need to rethink their actions and behaviours.

Thaddeus always finishes his routine with the line: “May your burden be light ….. ish”.

In the end it’s hard to warm to the ignoble Thaddeus; the anti-hero is portrayed as beyond pity and beyond redemption. That doesn’t make it a bad play, but it does leave you walking out of the Baby Grand into the drizzle with a knot in your stomach and a depressed feeling. Other theatregoers on Wednesday thought differently.

If you like your theatre – and your humour – dark, c21 Theatre’s Stand Up Man is in the Baby Grand until 8 February before it goes on tour.
  • Mon 10th Feb: Island Arts Centre, Lisburn
  • Tues 11th Feb: Old Courthouse, Antrim
  • Wed 12th Feb: Boys Model School, Belfast
  • Fri 14th Feb: Riverside Theatre, Coleraine
  • Sat 15th Feb: Ballyearl Arts Centre, Newtownabbey
  • Sun 16th Feb: Craic Theatre, Coalisland
  • Mon 17th Feb: Cushendall Golf Club, Cushendall
  • Wed 19th Feb: McNeill Arts Centre, Larne
  • Fri 21st Feb: Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick
  • Sat 22nd Feb: Market Place Theatre, Armagh

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