For the two decades of his career, Martin Moran was a respected and dependable character actor, a critic's favorite, but not exactly the kind of personality that attracted focused press attention. Then he wrote and performed in the 2004 solo show The Tricky Part and everything changed. The autobiographical piece told of how Moran, when he was 12 years old, was molested by a camp counselor, beginning a sexual relationship that would last three years — and how Moran eventually came to forgive the counselor, and himself. The New York Times called it a "translucent memoir of a play." Moran performed the piece all over the U.S., and across the world. In 2006, it was turned into a book, and the actor was sometimes asked to speak at events on the topics of child molestation and forgiveness. Now, Moran is back with a Off-Broadway new play, All the Rage, at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, in which he asks himself, "Where is your anger?" His pursuit of the answer takes him to South Africa, Colorado, and all over New York.
The action in All the Rage ranges over several years. At what point during that time span did you realize you might have the material for a new show?
Martin Moran: Oh, golly, that's an interesting question. It's an odd thing that happens with me; it happened with The Tricky Part as well. I begin to be seized by a kind of question. Something takes hold. And I begin to grapple with it on the page. The seeds of this began when Katheryn Harrison, a wonderful writer, had asked me to contribute a piece to Ploughshares, the literary magazine. I sat down to write the piece. This was two and a half years ago. I wrote about my work with the refugees and I wrote about being in Spamalot. And then a woman who works at a theatre up in Westchester said, "Are you working on anything new?" I said, "Well, not really, but I've written these stories and maybe there's something there." She said, "Would you be willing to come and perform whatever you're working on, as an experimental thing, whatever it is you're working on?" That was the day I thought maybe this could be a piece of theatre.
Before that, had you ever thought, "Well, I wrote The Tricky Part and that's it. I'm not necessarily going to return to playwriting"?
MM: I did think that. Along the way, the McCarter Theatre had commissioned me to write a one-act and I did that. That was really fun and went really well. I worked a lot trying to make a screenplay out of The Tricky Part. So I was dabbling in those things. But I had a huge feeling that, with The Tricky Part, I told the story I needed to tell. Then I booked Spamalot and I was so happy and so relieved. I'm back in a big old musical and I'm singing and there are other actors to talk to. It's funny and it's fun and I'm working with Mike Nichols and it's such a joy. I'm not going to go through that gauntlet again of doing a one-man show, even though it's deeply satisfying. But it's so scary and lonely and all that crazy stuff. But, again, what happened was a question, just like with Tricky Part. Something took hold. In this case it was consistently getting letters in response to The Tricky Part asking, "Where is your anger?" It began to really obsess me.
I thought, "Have I skipped an entire realm of human emotion? Did I really achieve forgiveness? Will I never be whole?" It becomes an insane compulsion to get to the bottom of a question. And because I'm an actor, when I'm writing, I start to imagine a group of people sitting around and telling them a story. It's been over a three-year period that All the Rage was getting started. I was playing Puck at La Jolla Playhouse and I asked Christopher Ashley if I could do a reading. So I did a reading and Chris said, "You really have something here," and invited me back for a week-long workshop. There were little signals of: there's something here; keep going. It's always inch by inch, because I feel shy and afraid about it.
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