With its exposed, jagged walls and the overall feel of a ruined pagan temple, the Southern Theater is the perfect setting for Enda Walsh’s “Misterman,” a one-man drama about physical, spiritual and psychic brokenness. The venue also is big enough to swallow a solo actor whole.
But John Catron, who had a commendable turn in “Long Day’s Journey into Night” at the Guthrie earlier this season, will have none of that. He uses the Southern like a macabre playpen in director Wendy Knox’s absorbing production of the play, which closes Frank Theatre’s season.
Catron bounces around the detritus-strewn stage (courtesy of designer Michael Sommers) like a man possessed by spirits, religious and otherwise. He darts and leaps between vintage reel-to-reel tape machines and unspooled tape. He flings things violently as he tries to mute the voices rattling in his head.
It is all, seemingly, for naught.
You see, Thomas Magill, whom Catron embodies with such demonic physicality, is a self-righteous Irishman who sees only evil in Innisfree, where “Misterman” is set. In fact, Thomas has gone around cataloguing the deadly sins of the people there, from lechery to greed and selfishness.
He is a man trapped in a cage of his own making. The conversations he has are with the recordings he has made, sometimes surreptitiously, of friends, strangers and family during one momentous day. He’s a like a steel ball in one of those click-clack games.
The moments the he re-lives are all he has. And, as played by Catron, he has tender, well-timed encounters with his mother, even if she is a spirit on tape and he is a man in the flesh who just happens to be eating at a table. (By the way, Thomas says his grace after he finishes eating.)
Catron appropriately goes to some dark places in “Misterman,” a 90-minute one-act that is inexorably mordant. But he also gives us fleeting moments of lightness and levity. One of the funniest bits includes a conversation that Thomas has with an old lady. Catron, who plays both parts, nails it.
Still, his main character is so righteous and agitated most of the time, it’s hard to like him for long.
What the actor gives us in his tour-de-force performance is a man wrestling with demons that manifest themselves as their opposite. The contradictions are starkly embodied on the actor’s face, in his popping veins and in his voice, a strained instrument that he uses to betray what is really one of the strangest figures on any stage this spring theater season.