The Man Himself
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 9, 2006
The Man Himself is a very stripped-down one-man play about a 40-ish schlemiel named Michael who is edging into a possible life of right-wing religious fanaticism. Ami Dayan, who plays Michael and co-adapted and directed this play (the original version was written in 1975 by British author Alan Drury), is seated on the lone set piece—a chair, from which he almost never gets up—and talks to us for about 70 minutes. The monologue charts Michael's course from indecisive wishy-washy husband to indecisive wishy-washy loner (his wife has left him) who has been befriended by a man named Richard who wants him to join his church (cult?) and help him hand out recruitment literature.
Michael talks mostly about his job, at a place called Component and Supply Limited, where he is a Parts Manager. What he tells us is somewhat muddled: he says that he is so focused that he can maintain all of the inventory numbers in his head, and that he follows company policy so much to the letter that he will never release any of the electrical switches and relays that are his responsibility without proper authorization and forms. (This information is intended, I think, mainly to convince us that Michael is a man craving structure and conformity.) Yet he also states that his bosses have indicated he will never be promoted, and that his co-workers hate him and call him (contradictory) epithets such as "faggot" and "Hitler."
Michael also shares a long story about how he tried to thwart a group of "Mexican hoodlums" who tried to rob a cashier stand at a local bus station. (He's quick to point out that the cashier was himself Mexican and "a nice man.") This information is intended, I think, to show us that Caucasian, Protestant Michael is feeling increasingly powerless in the face of others who are of different racial and religious backgrounds.
The upshot is that at the climax of the monologue, Michael seems almost ready to go over the edge, so to speak, and embrace the vague but scary philosophies of his new friend Richard. He rises and delivers a rant against homosexuals and abortion, achieving a level of emotion that has heretofore been conspicuously absent. And this, we are to conclude, is how a radical right-winger is made.
The problem, though, is that I was not convinced. Drury's original play has been hailed, apparently, as a document of remarkable insight (the program informs us that it's used in sociology and psychology classes in Europe). But what we see of it here, via Dayan's modern adaptation (it takes place in Denver in 2005), fails to compel. It's predictable and simplistic in its arc; worse, it's mostly quite dull, thanks to both the studied mundaneness of Michael's patter and the equally studied stillness-masquerading-as-creepiness of Dayan's self-directed performance.
I also found myself wondering repeatedly where exactly Michael is supposed to be and who he thinks he's talking to. A perusal of a script that was provided to me after the performance indicated that the premise is that Michael is at a public hall, delivering a talk about his "conversion" to Richard's religion; trappings in the set or staging to suggest this might have helped to provide context about where Michael has arrived in his life at the time this play takes place.
What disturbs me most about The Man Himself, though, is its claim to universality. The press materials call Michael an "everyman," something he assuredly is not: what I kept thinking, over and over again, is that lots of people's wives leave them, lots of people are disliked by their co-workers, lots of people witness crimes...and lots of people don't become right-wing fundamentalists. What are we supposed to learn from Michael's story that authentically speaks to the world we live in? There's no evidence that Dayan has done any research in the creation of this adaptation—why should we trust him to guide us into a stratum of society that he seems far too willing to generalize about on stage?