Tuesday, December 6, 2016

An Actor's Quest For Inner Peace

Monologists are a curious breed of actors. Not only do they write and perform their own material, some are noted for their unique personal styles of storytelling. Artists like Dan Hoyle, Ann Randolph, and Charlie Varon are gifted shapeshifters who, almost effortlessly, can take on the vocal and physical mannerisms of a variety of characters as they weave each person's story into a human tapestry in which the whole becomes much greater than the sum of its parts.

Some actors tread a thin line between being a monologist and a stand-up comedian. As angry as Mike Daisey and Lewis Black may seem at any given moment, each is a diehard provocateur determined to vent his outrage to an audience while delivering a shitload of information about what is wrong with the world and/or some of the fools who think they are in charge of it.

Then there is Martin Moran, an engaging author/actor who, if you're not careful, might lure you into believing that he is an extremely affable spirit guide who, although he appears onstage in the shape of a middle-aged gay man, is a golden retriever at heart. As he zigs and zags about the stage with the energy of a puppy who is just so thrilled to meet new people that he can't tell which way to turn first, Moran embraces his audience with the warmth and wit of his art.

Even without the seductive power of a wagging tail, Moran has an uncanny ability to disarm an audience and make them feel comfortable enough in his presence so that, when he starts to talk about his experience of being sexually molested by his camp counselor when he was 12 years old, rather than being shocked, his audience is ready to hold out a hand to calm him, show their support, and learn how he handled the trauma. This is a man who has some powerful stories to share with audiences; a man who has traveled certain roads you'll hope you never do.

Having appeared on Broadway between 1984 and 2009 in productions of such popular musicals as Oliver! How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Titanic, Cabaret, Bells Are Ringing, and Monty Python's Spamalot (in addition to making numerous appearances on television), Moran has developed into a true stage animal. During his career he has portrayed a  wealth of characters ranging from Huckleberry Finn in Big River to Zonker Harris in the national tour of Garry Trudeau’s musical, Doonesbury

Moran's skills as a character actor have helped him to shape two deeply personal 90-minute monologues that he has performed on numerous stages around the world. In 2004, he premiered a one-man show, The Tricky Part, which received received two Drama Desk Award nominations and an Obie Award. After his memoir (The Tricky Part: A Boy's Story of Sexual Trespass, a Man's Journey to Forgiveness) was published in 2005, Moran received a LAMBDA Belles Lettres Award for his writing. Following the publication of The Tricky Part, Moran received invitations to appear on a panel in South Africa and to perform in Mumbai as well as a request for help from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. As he recalls:
"They were prosecuting a guy who had been seducing kids from eastern Europe, in the rural area of Romania. But he was being tried in Philadelphia. It turned out he had my book on his shelf. So, as part of their investigation, they called me.

Robert Morganthau's office, the Manhattan prosecutor, asked me to come down and do the play in a conference room and discuss with prosecutors and lawyers who work with domestic and sexual abuse about forgiveness and the complexity of the subject. With an abused person, it's so not black and white. It's a complex relationship sometimes. And then there were half a dozen conferences with doctors and therapists across the country. I was invited to Warsaw and did the play there and sat on a panel and talked about it."

In 2013, Moran's second one-man show, All The Rage, premiered in New York and received an award for Outstanding Solo Show. In 2016, a second memoir entitled All the Rage: A Quest was published. In that book, Martin describes his spiritual journey toward trying to understand why, despite some truly terrible events in his life (including having to deal with an archetypal evil stepmother), he has never felt the kind of anger and rage that consumes and often cripples so many others. Whether his capacity for empathy has done double duty as a defense mechanism or he finds it too difficult to want to hurt someone, his willingness to embrace forgiveness provides a foundation for some expert storytelling.

A graduate of Stanford University who trained with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Moran has taught movement for actors at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island as well as teaching voice at Juilliard and NYU. He recently returned to the Bay area to perform his two monologues in repertory at The Strand on Market Street.

Directed by Seth Barrish, both monologues explore Martin's difficult relationship with his stepmother, his confrontation with the man who had molested him 30 years ago, as well as his volunteer work helping a refugee from Sudan who had been tortured and separated from his wife and child but managed to start a new life in America. Whether jumping between tales of being stranded in a rural part of South Africa with a guide who doesn't know how to read a map or traveling to the Statue of Liberty with two friends who are immigrants, Moran proves to be an engaging guide with an uncanny ability to rise above a world awash in pain and find empathy for those less fortunate than himself.

Considering that Martin started off as a child who answered the phone as "King Jesus" and, after many hours of therapy, is happily married to another actor (Henry Stram), it should come as no surprise that each monologue is filled with hilarity, introspection, and moments of grace. Performances of All The Rage and The Tricky Part continue through December 11 at The Strand (click here for tickets).

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