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.
|Photo by Joan Marcus|
I must say you have an interesting problem. Most of us, at least here in New York, have too much access to our anger.
MM: Well, that's true. We live at such a pitch here. There's a lot about winning, there's a lot about who's on top. And the sense of being separate, competitive individuals, separate egos, struggling for survival, is keen in New York. It's keen in Western Civilization in general. But in New York it's extremely true. I've done a fair amount of traveling, and I've felt that in South Africa, and India, and even in Europe — you meet people who say, "I'm a cashier in a grocery store. I do the laundry." And there's not that hyper, edgy sense of needing to be on the top. I think it adds to our edge in this area.
You said in the play that after The Tricky Part, you became the "go-to person" on the subject of forgiveness. Aside from that South African panel you appeared on, were there other invitations?
MM: Yes! Yes, a lot, actually. Robert Morganthau's office, the Manhattan prosecutor, they asked me to come down and do the play in a conference room, and discuss with prosecutors and lawyers who work with domestic and sexual abuse about forgiveness and the complexity of the subject. With an abused person, it's so not black and white. It's a complex relationship sometimes. And then there were half a dozen conferences with doctors and therapists across the country. I was invited to Warsaw and did the play there and sat on a panel and talked about it.
There was a wild one where I got a phone call from the Department of Homeland Security, and they were prosecuting a guy who had been seducing kids from eastern Europe, in the rural area of Romania. But he was being tried in Philadelphia. It turned out he had my book on his shelf. As part of their investigation, they called me. At first, I was terrified. "Department of Homeland Security calling."
Yeah, you don't really want them calling you, do you?
MM: No! And I'm playing Sir Robin in Spamalot and they were calling from Philadelphia. Anyway, I met them for lunch at the Edison Cafe between performances. There were four prosecutors. We ended up becoming friends. They were so intrigued by the book and the play. They wanted to talk to me about how to act with the boys they were flying over from Romania.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
I liked the way you kept bringing props and visual aids into the storytelling of All the Rage: the globe, the map, the slides. Were you a teacher once?
MM: I have been, but not in any big formal way. Director Anne Bogart invited me and my partner to become company members the years she took over Trinity Rep. This was some years ago. As part of the deal, she asked if I would teach in the conservatory. I taught movement for actors. And I have taught often as a substitute teacher at Julliard and NYU, teaching voice. In the new play, there's quite a bit of death. You tell of three significant deaths, two of them within your family. Did you intend this to be a theme, or did it just write itself that way?
MM: You know, Robert, gosh, you ask good questions. It's interesting what you say, because — I have to say — the way the subconscious works is so mysterious. I did not set out to write about death per se, at all. I set out to answer a question, and I tried to follow it wherever it led. My book literally came out three days before my father's funeral. It was so weird. It all happened at the time dad died. So the play begins recounting a story on the day of my father's funeral eight years ago. It didn't occur to me that the play was about death, but then it occurred to me that I'm over 50 and somehow mortality was playing a part. And then my brother, at age 43, suddenly died. I couldn't feel whether that part about my brother belonged in the play or not. I'd put it in and take it out. And then there was that conscious decision all of a sudden, that realization of, "Oh, we're gone. Poof. We're gone in an instant." The play began moving toward the transcendent. "Why am I gripped by these questions? Just be here right now. Do you see? Do you see?" You know, if you're really writing about deep stuff, you're in a way always writing about death.
PHOTO ARCHIVE: Hunter Foster, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Cerveris, Seth Numrich and More Celebrate Martin Moran's All the Rage