Martin Moran was starring in the hit Broadway musical Monty Python's Spamalot when he had a life-changing experience. In the midst of the joyful number "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," he looked down at the front row and couldn't believe what he spotted: a woman hysterically sobbing. The existential crisis which transpired propelled Moran into a quest for deeper meaning.
In his delightful new solo show, All the Rage, now at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons under the direction of Seth Barrish, Moran documents his quest for spiritual enlightenment, which he eventually achieves as an interpreter for immigrant refugees seeking asylum in the United States. Working with The International Institute of New Jersey, Moran was introduced to Siba, a Chadian immigrant who, after being beaten, tortured, and separated from his family, has the strength to build a new life in America, but without any sort of anger toward his oppressors.
Moran sees a certain kinship in Siba's story. When he was in his early teens, Moran was sexually abused by a Catholic camp counselor for a period of three years, an experience recounted in his memoir and OBIE-winning solo show, The Tricky Part. The unfailingly good-natured Moran isn't angry about what he suffered; what does anger him, though, is when people are mystified as to why he's not angry.
While Moran promises early on in All the Rage that, "We're not going down that path tonight," his trauma hangs over the 75-minute work. But All the Rage isn't another memoir show about sexual abuse, rather it's about one person's quest to understand why he's not angry, and to, perhaps, reclaim the anger. Except that he just can't seem to locate it. Not at his father's funeral, where there's a tense confrontation with his father's wife (a woman he never got along with), and not even when he's at a VA hospital, finally confronting "Bob," the man who molested him.
Sending the audience on a journey from New York to Africa to the stage of the Shubert Theatre and the A-Train, All the Rage has the potential to seem messily unfocused, but it's that exact quality, along with Moran's dry sense of humor and unassuming manner, that puts the show above other solo works of this nature, many of which easily fall into dramatic sob-fest territory. Moran and his quest to find anger is a surprisingly hilarious journey, and it's through that humor that unexpected pathos hits.
Moran does find his anger eventually. And naturally, it comes at the strangest moment and in an even stranger form. But one thing's for certain: it didn't do him any good. What does do him good is his quiet sense of humor, enormously on display throughout the heartwarming show, as is his overwhelming belief in empathy. In this cynical world, where anger is the mandate, perhaps it's empathy that can really solve our problems.