by guest critic Maeve Ryan
I Hear You And Rejoice is a tribute to the power of the single storyteller. Lighting, costume and staging are simple, revealing the power of the skilled actor. The result is a joyful play full of sentimentality that is also hugely funny.
This is the followup to the much-loved The Man In The Woman’s Shoes, also written and performed by Mikel Murfi. Both plays began their journey following a research period interviewing older people in Murfi’s native Sligo. Having performed the play back to the very people he had interviewed for inspiration, The Man In The Woman’s Shoes debuted at The Hawkswell in Sligo. It has since toured extensively to audiences at home and abroad.
In this sequel play, the formidable Kitsy Rainey is paid tribute by the people in her community, particularly by her husband Pat. Pat is the mute hero of The Man in the Woman’s Shoes – when the audience learn of Kitsy’s demise in the opening of And I Hear You and Rejoice, there are audible gasps and sighs from audience members who had met her in the original piece. Many of the characters who appear elicit a similar response.
Mikel Murfi is an actor at the top of his physical and vocal game. His face looks like clay, and contorts like it too – characters appear to age by thirty years. His vocal choices are exaggerated and playful but remain in the realms of recognition. Each physical choice he makes is clear, detailed and full of fun.
The story itself is a gleeful tribute to eccentricity. Murfi has taken the quirky humanity of people in a small town and puts these people centre stage. In Murfi’s hands, they deserve this position. He is an extraordinarily skilled clown and performer. His Le Coq background is put to full use here.
If the story is overly sentimental at times, it is also beautifully uplifting. This is a painting of a town where people get on despite their differences and individuality – outsiders and eccentricities are not merely tolerated, but celebrated. It is an outer community that is presented on stage, rather than an inner world, which occasionally limits what we see. This is because this is Pat’s story – we see his town through the lens of an optimistic, loving man. Kitsy remains a mystery to Pat. His love is no smaller for it.
Like in the famous Synge play which Kitsy references, The Playboy of the Western World, Kitsy is an outsider who comes to a small town and causes a stir. And like Synge, Murfi used the words and cadences of the people in a small country area as a stimulus and transformed them for the stage. Unlike Playboy, the result is not something that will precipitate protest from its subjects. Rather this is a love letter to the joy found between people living together in small towns.
I Hear You and Rejoice runs through 1 July.
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