Misterman: Sex, lies, and audiotape

John Catron
John Catron
Photo by Tony Nelson
The latest Frank Theatre show involves a man alone onstage, accompanied only by audiotapes he has carefully constructed over the lonely years of his life.

It may sound like a certain Samuel Beckett one-act, but Misterman comes from the mind of a modern Irish playwright, Enda Walsh.

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"He has called the play a distant cousin of Krapp's Last Tape," says John Catron, who plays Thomas Magill, the onstage character in the play.

Magill has taped numerous conversations and now, in a deserted warehouse dominated by empty Fanta cans, plays them back on a series of vintage reel-to-reel tape machines. Frank has employed a number of local acting luminaries, including Patrick Bailey, Bain Boehlke, Anne Enneking, Cheryl Willis, and Joe Dowling.

"Each time we read it, it was like a great puzzle falling into place. This stuff is coming clear. There is something so intriguing about the play in that way. As you figure out how the pieces fit best, the meaning comes clear," says director Wendy Knox.

"There are times when Thomas recreates the conversation by playing both characters. There are other times when he only plays himself and interacts with the recorded character," Catron says. "There are also moments when the reel-to-reels interrupt him with certain voices that seem to reveal snippets of conversation that he doesn't want played."

The play offers a great challenge for sound designer Michael Croswell, whose work started long before rehearsals. A key task was to find time to record the various taped voices. Then there was the task of finding nine operational reel-to-reel tape machines.

"The sound has to be integrated," Croswell says. "A company like this allows you that luxury. Sometimes the protocol of the company doesn't allow you to be that active."

While the voices won't actually be played over each reel-to-reel, Croswell has worked to make each voice sound as if it is emanating from that part of the stage.

"It was incredibly helpful to have the sound design mocked up when we entered rehearsals," says Catron, who needs to act with each of the pre-recorded segments. "It's the starting point. Thomas is playing caricatures of these people, putting his attitude on them in the recreation. I know most of [the actors], so I've been able to hear the voice and put a personality to it."

"It's not typical for a sound designer to sit with me on rehearsal every day," Catron says.

Knox had hoped to find an industrial space to present the show -- Frank has used found spaces throughout its 20-year history -- but "it is such a tricky little dance. The Southern was available and it's really fun for us, as so many of our early shows were there. We grew up as much as Frank ever grew up there," she says.

Walsh, who won a Tony for his book of the musical Once, is "a beautiful writer. It is very Irish. There is a dark sense of humor that is also really funny. There is some great poetry in it," Knox says.

"It's my favorite kind of play. It asks the audience to be active. How does this work and how does it all fit together?" Catron says.


Friday through April 28
The Southern Theater
1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.724.3760 or visit online.

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