Going to Extremes

A psychological snapshot of a budding evangelist

With Muslim extremism so much in the news, there's something almost quaint about watching a man move toward the passé fanaticism of the Christian right. In the monologue The Man Himself, written by Alan Drury, director- performer- adapter Ami Dayan traces the conversion of everyman Michael from agnostic schlub to impassioned defender of fetuses and heterosexual marriages everywhere. And all without the promise of 72 virgins.

Originally written and set in 1970s England, The Man Himself has received an update and relocation to Colorado, where Dayan and co-writer Mark Williams reside. Though Dayan and Williams have altered locations and details, the script remains a product of its time, though no less apt a psychological portrait. We encounter Michael dressed in his gray work uniform, the tag on his breast identifying him as an employee of Component and Supply Inc, "which is not a good name," admits Michael. But the company name is the least of Michael's disappointments. Disliked by colleagues, mocked by neighbors, deserted by his wife, he exhibits an alienation that marks him out for indoctrination.

With his long face, made longer by a perilously receding hairline, and his thin frame, Dayan as Michael hunches in his folding chair, clasping his hands in his lap or rubbing them nervously against his mustache. Dayan's Israeli accent doesn't exactly jibe with the character, but otherwise he deftly embodies Michael's pettiness and loneliness. A fastidious worker whom his colleagues describe as a "little Hitler," Michael can tend toward the tyrannical. Of his stock of switches, he insists, "Everything must have the correct authorization. I will not let anyone bring anything in or take anything out unless they have the right little form." Stories and remarks reveal Michael's meticulousness, shyness, fear of change. When he meets Richard, an evangelical slipping a leaflet under his door, he's lured by the promise of friendship and community.

It's a challenge to craft a character who is unlikable but intelligible and even sympathetic. The piece never portrays him as a monster but as a reticent man, overfond of sweets, unable to quit smoking. Yet it reveals, chillingly, how a man who doesn't "often make a fuss, it usually only leads to bad feelings," might transform into someone capable of making quite a fuss indeed.

 
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