Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Brian Murray acts out

I’m always interested to know what will make an actor step out of character and break through the fourth wall to talk to the audience. I’ve heard stories of actors stopping a show to tell someone to turn off a cell phone and although I’ve been in plenty of theatres where phones have rung, I’ve never seen an actor acknowledge them. During Saturday’s matinee at the Irish Rep, however, I did witness Brian Murray breach the wall, but it wasn’t over a cell phone. It was over a foot, specifically a foot belonging to a man in the front row who had quite rudely and unbelievably propped it up on the stage.

Mr. Murray, who is playing the detective in the Irish Rep’s delightful revival of “Gaslight,” walked to the edge of the stage and, without looking at the man, made a shooing motion with his hand. Some people in the audience laughed; the barbarian removed his foot.

Although this took only a moment, it took a bit more time to regain the rhythm of the play. Mr. Murray seemed as if he were having trouble focusing on his lines. And while getting back into character took awhile for him, it also took awhile for me to again see him as his character. I don’t mean this as a criticism of what Mr. Murray did, it is just a good example of how important that imaginary fourth wall is to maintaining the magic of the story on stage.

Luckily the world of that Victorian-era parlor had already been well established right from the start with James Morgan’s marvelous set. The heavy oppressiveness could be felt everywhere, from the dark walls covered in all available spaces with stern portraits and landscapes, to the overstuffed furniture and rugs on top of rugs. One could almost smell the dust. The Irish Rep really has a way of making use of its postage stamp-sized stage, with busy sets like this or minimalist ones such as for “Finian Rainbow.”

Another big plus for creating this world and propelling the chilling plot was David Staller as Mr. Manningham, the murderous husband. He is so deliciously sinister that even when he isn’t on stage just the thought of him builds suspense.

None of this is unusual, though. In more than a decade of going to the Irish Rep I’ve never seen anything there that wasn’t well done. I might not like a play -- such as those by Tom Murphy -- but the quality of the production is always first rate. I hope in the future when artistic director Charlotte Moore makes the announcement about turning off cell phones she doesn’t have to alert audience members not to mistake the stage for a footstool!

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