Mikel Murfi Steps Back Into The Man in the Woman's Shoes and His Newest, I Hear You and Rejoice
The Irish actor performs his two solo shows in rep.
You can usually spot a truly great actor by the lack of window dressing he puts on his performance. Standing on a bare stage and clad in a simple outfit of suspenders hoisting worn slacks over a white shirt, Mikel Murfi hides behind nothing at Irish Arts Center, where he is reviving his popular solo show, The Man in the Woman's Shoes, in repertory with its sequel, I Hear You and Rejoice. Both funny and heartwarming, these plays will transport you across the Atlantic using just the propulsion of Murfi's engrossing stage presence.
The titular man in the woman's shoes is the cobbler Pat Farnon, who despite being mute, is our narrator. We can hear him speak, even if no one else can, and he shares with us the observations of a man who has spent a lifetime listening. He is indeed wearing woman's shoes, specifically those of Kitsy Rainey, manager of the local football team (he wants to break them in for her before she has to run up and down the pitch). On his way to delivering them, he makes visits to a local café and the church, where a mush-mouthed bishop competes to be heard over the prayers of a particularly loud congregant.
Murfi portrays Pat, Kitsy, the garrulous water diviner Huby Paterson (whose musings on why popes cannot be organ donors are a scream), and a whole host of quirky characters from small-town Ireland in the late 1970s. These characters are distinct and fully formed, yet Murfi slips between them with astounding ease. He sacrifices nothing in terms of clarity, but the transitions are nearly instantaneous. The effect is something similar to a live jump cut, with the whole scene rapidly changing on a dime thanks to the minimal stage design and Murfi's ultra-committed performance. No director is credited, nor is one's absence at all felt.
While still told from Pat's perspective, I Hear You and Rejoice takes place seven years after the first play, and focuses more on the formidable character of Kitsy, a woman who referred to herself as "the Holy Ghost's sister," if the priest delivering her eulogy is to believed. In that very Irish way, I Hear You and Rejoice takes a close look at her life through the event of her untimely death. By the end, we understand why Pat loved her, and we come to love her too.
Murfi doesn't shy away from sentimentality, and parts of I Hear You and Rejoice feel like a big dollop of Kerrygold onstage. Still, he always convinces us to eat up with the sincerity of his performance. His portrayal of Pat is particularly compelling, with a hunched posture, a slight catch in his delivery, and big, honest eyes. This outwardly mute man is as ideal a narrator for us as he is a man for Kitsy, a woman perfectly happy to do the talking for two.
It's impossible to leave The Man in the Woman's Shoes and I Hear You and Rejoice without a big smile on your face. Murfi offers a perfect marriage of clever writing and confident storytelling, all in one very impressive being.