A Fanatic's Fable
When you walk into the East Theater at the Dairy Center for the Arts, you see a man puttering quietly about the stage. The setting is simple: a white chair dead center; a set of coveralls suspended from a hanger to your left; a table holding sound equipment to your right. As the play progresses and the man retrieves his memorabilia from behind the speakers, this table becomes more and more cluttered. Bouncy tunes fill the air: "What the World Needs Now," "You've Got a Friend" and "I Got You, Babe."
The coveralls and the tunes are connected. The puttering man -- Michael -- works for a corporation called Component and Supply Incorporated Electrical Supplies, which is also the creator of Happitunes supermarket and elevator music.
Michael begins to talk about his job, his responsibilities, his preferences. He's a stickler for procedure, and his co-workers dislike him for it. He's puzzled by change in the world. Eventually we learn a little about his childhood, his nonbeliever father and the mother who made him take communion -- which he approached full of anticipation but ultimately found meaningless. Certain of his lines are particularly telling: "I am only doing what I am told"; "Compassion has nothing to do with it. There are rules"; and "If people are failures, it's best they face up to it."
Michael is troubled by Latino hoodlums and the Muslim couple in his apartment building who drink beer and play loud Arabic rap music. He dislikes unions. In an increasingly demanding and multicultural world, he's unable to find his footing. But he does have a friend, Richard, an evangelical Lutheran who slipped a flier beneath his door one evening. Michael doesn't believe everything that Richard believes, nor does he possess a genuine religious calling of his own, but he's impressed by Richard's moral certainty and the fact that his evangelical group promulgates rules.
The Man Himself was written by Alan Drury, an Englishman, as a study of how an ordinary person becomes drawn to fascism. It was first produced in London in 1975. Israeli actor and director Ami Dayan has adapted the text with Drury's permission, setting it in Denver and substituting contemporary American evangelism for fascism. Before entering the theater, every member of Dayan's audience received a bookmark for the 54th Annual National Day of Prayer. It asks the reader to spend five minutes a day praying for the media, the government, the church and the family, and for the schools to get "back to basics."
It's hard for me to judge the play itself. The message is spot on, but sometimes I thought the script a touch obvious. The local references -- which tended to get a laugh or a knowing murmur -- occasionally felt intrusive, and I wondered how this version compared with Drury's. But then again, Michael can't be pigeonholed; he's a truly original character, a bitter defeated Everyman, brave in his own strange way, sometimes pitiable and sometimes involuntarily funny, poised dangerously between ignorant racism and the possibility -- no matter how remote -- of understanding. Then there's Dayan's riveting and intensely authoritative performance, which makes you empathize with Michael even as you recoil from him. And Dayan communicates a subtext that stays with you long after you've left the theater. He's an Israeli, a relative of the controversial hero of the Six-Day War, Moshe Dayan. His work consistently explores issues of war and peace and asks just what it means to be human. Dayan makes you understand that although Michael may be only one small, sad man, for the one hour he occupies the sparsely laid-out stage at the Dairy Center, he represents us all.
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