NEW YORK (AP) — In the opening of Martin Moran's new solo play, "All the Rage," an introspective but lively memoir, the performer tells the story of a bitter family argument and how he attempted to manage his emotions by inwardly reciting his "latest mantra," an ancient Sanskrit proverb.
"The road to freedom is lit by compassion."
Martin brings the saying to mind after flying hundreds of miles to attend his father's funeral, only to be greeted rudely by his prickly, suspicious stepmother.
"It is a phrase to be repeated," the soft-spoken but caustic New Yorker advises the audience with coy reverence, "... until convinced."
Moran uses the ensuing clash and its unexpected result as a springboard into a series of isolated but similarly tense vignettes in this meditative comedy, which opened Wednesday at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.
Endearingly humble, clever and funny, he takes us on his sometimes desperate mission to acquire "life clues" and achieve Zen moments, despite the strains of past demons and the apparent hopelessness of his everyday life as a musical theater performer in an unforgiving city and a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams.
The journey includes a series of enlightening, if not quite life-affirming, encounters that range from anger-inducing to humbling and take place in variously far-flung locations — a busy intersection in midtown Manhattan, a Chinese buffet at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, a secluded campsite in the Rocky Mountains, a sightseeing excursion in South Africa.
Moran covers a lot ground, thanks to his deft ability to hopscotch gracefully between seemingly unconnected stories and disparate themes, although the script could use some honing with some of the sudden leaps in narrative and locale.
Part of a flawed solution to the geographic scatter of the story is built into a simple, uninspired set. A pair of rolling bulletin boards display maps — one of Africa and the other of the New York City subway system. A table sits in the center of the stage with nothing but a desk lamp and a globe, which Moran occasionally spins and points to.
He also uses an overhead projector to display photos on a pull-down screen. The props conspire to produce all the ambiance of an elementary school classroom, an unfortunate contrast to the vibrant and real-world edge of Moran's storytelling.
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