WE LEAVE FEELING INFORMED, AFFIRMED AND WARMLY HUMAN
EAMONN MARRA in MAN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 12 Aug 2014 to 16 Aug 2014
Reviewed by John Smythe, 13 Aug 2014
Eamonn Marra has not, of course, planned to open this return season of Man on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – which won him the Best Newcomer Award at this year's NZ International Comedy Festival – on the day Robin William's death is announced. Indeed as we file into the Bats (Out of Site) auditorium, he hands us a flyer / programme which includes the following:
“After the news of Robin Williams death this morning I have mixed feelings about performing a comedy show about anxiety and depression. Comedy is one of the ways I get through it, but it alone isn't enough. We need support, love and respect from each other. I hope I can help and if you ever feel these feelings, tonight will assure you that you are not alone. That's all I can really do for now. Love each other.”
Halleluiah and pass the crisps. That's his trade-mark: bowls of potato crisps for us to pass around during the show. Nice. He also passes round lists of affirmations of himself which we are asked to call out: a simultaneously self-affirming, -effacing and –aware device.
So how does a reviewer approach such a show in such a context?
Well the first thing to say is Eamonn Marra's on-stage style could not be more opposite to that of Robin Williams. Williams was loud, hyper and apparently hugely confident; Marra is quiet, unassuming and apparently lacking in confidence (he says as much), which makes the very existence of his show an impressive confidence trick.
What they share is a desperate need to be liked and affirmed, which overtly informs Marra's self-aware material and was more subtextual with Williams.
Williams was a baby boomer whose live shows were rich in political satire and observational comedy about the whole wide world if not the cosmos. Marra is Gen Y – “we are narcissists who take selfies and have Twitter accounts” – and his shows (the other being Respite in this year's Fringe) are about himself, except for one quick crack at Coca Cola advertising and his apologetic go at mimicking the “old people” who say hard work is the answer to anxiety and despression.
(Of course when a chemical imbalance produces the anxiety and depression, no amount of logic and reason can replace appropriate medication, unless a specific behavioural cause for that imbalance can be identified and successfully avoided in the future.)
Being a baby boomer myself, and therefore old, whose co-dependent disposition is ‘rescuer' (including of those who have no desire to be ‘rescued'), I find myself wanting to ‘fix' Marra by counselling him to turn his gaze to a wider horizon and put his energy into contributing to others because that's how you know you are valued and how you get the good stuff back. But of course that's what he's doing with his shows: isolating the personal and particular for the entertaining edification of us all because the personal is political, the particular is universal, and it's impossible not to empathise with him in a “there but for the grace of (insert your choice of higher power) go I” way.
Thus his flip-charted intentions and counterpointing fears are funny simply because they are true. And because he invokes such low expectations, including of the guitar-playing with which he accompanies his original songs, the only way is up when he makes an insightful, whimsical or poignant point through prose, poetry or song.
The adage that comedy is truth plus pain is proven as he makes quietly casual references to his love life, masturbation and strategy for not feeling lonely at night.
It is a simple, observable fact that Eamonn Marra's opening night audience leaves feelings informed, affirmed and warmly human as well as entertained after spending an hour with this Man on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
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