NEW YORK—The dazzling performer and playwright Mikel Murfi portrays an extraordinary assortment of people (and animals) in “I Hear You and Rejoice,” the companion piece for his earlier work “The Man in the Woman’s Shoes.” Both plays, which stand alone as single efforts, are being presented in rotating repertory at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan’s Clinton area.
The stories are told by Murfi as Pat Farnon, a mute cobbler who, at the start of the tale, lives alone some miles far from a city center in Sligo, Ireland. After regaling us with spot-on vocal “portrayals” of birds, pigs, cows, and a Christmas turkey, he moves into the heart of the matter: He must deliver to the formidable Kitsy Rainey a pair of new shoes that she wants to wear for today’s football game, for Kitsy happens to be the manager of the team.
As Pat takes us along on his laboriously executed five-mile hike into town, he meets various neighbors along the way, whom Murfi portrays with lightning-quick accuracy. He wears Kitsy’s shoes, to break them in for her.
Formerly a student at the famed École Jacques Lecoq in Paris, Murfi has the superior vocal and mimetic skills required to portray whatever he sets his mind on.
But aside from technical facility—Murfi can go from a deep baritone to high falsetto when required—there is the heart and soul of an Irishman portraying some of his countrymen and women and their place in their world.
A remarkable event takes place at the end of “Woman’s Shoes,” segueing into the richer aspects of Pat’s life.
“I Hear You and Rejoice” is placed at Kitsy’s funeral, where various grievers, including Pat, who has by this time been married to Kitsy for seven years, describe their feelings toward the feisty woman who had stolen all their hearts. In their portrayals, via Murfi’s skills, Kitsy comes alive.
It’s lovely to see how a simple twist of a hip can suggest a woman who is annoyed, and a tugging gesture at the armpits can suggest an ill-fitting bra. Through the various speechmakers at Kitsy’s funeral, including a preacher who mumbles almost incoherently, we see a picture of a woman who was many-sided, difficult but revered, and we come to sense Pat’s profound love for her.
A program note indicates that encounters Murfi had with groups of older people in Sligo helped formulate these remarkable theater pieces.
In addition to the plays themselves, it is a tremendous pleasure to witness the remarkable Murfi, dressed in pants, suspenders, and a shirt, take stage so effectively with nary a prop save for a chair.
‘I Hear You and Rejoice’ and ‘The Man in the Woman’s Shoes’
Irish Arts Center
553 W. 51st St.
Running Time: each show, 1 hour, 15 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or IrishArtsCenter.org
Closes: Oct. 21
Diana Barth writes for various theater publications, including New Millennium. She may be contacted at DiaBarth99@gmail.com