The Desperate Howl of a Dead-End Life

Move Andy McQuade and the paper detritus surrounding him on the stage at the Independent Theater down the stairs and out to Eighth Street, and he would be indistinguishable from any of the muttering homeless people one can find there. Most people in the audience would cross to the other side to avoid this snarling, flailing, unwashed specter. But in William Whitehurst’s disturbing Pigeon Man Apocalypse, McQuade’s great achievement is to make this character deeply sympathetic. He might still seem menacing by the end, but the audience knows where he is coming from and cannot simply forget him or dismiss him as subhuman, as they might otherwise have done. McQuade plays Arthur Cork, whose “personal apocalypse” has arrived with a family moving into the building where he has been squatting for years. The sound of drills and hammers and people’s voices in the floors below his filthy hideout impels him to tell the story of how he got there. Apart from the fact that it’s made up, the main thing that separates the unsettling rant that follows from those one usually hears from mentally ill street people is the neat, chronological way it’s presented. Arthur starts with his own birth-memory and works on through the wrenchingly sad, lonely years of his childhood to the rush of awful events that landed him where he is now. It’s a story that will be familiar to anyone who has read memoirs lately, marked by early abandonment by his father and then years of brutalization by his cruel mother. Arthur impersonates her frequently as he tells his story, and a cutting hatred fills his voice as he recounts the way she never let him leave the apartment and abused him in all ways imaginable, physically and emotionally.

By the time he brings things up to the present, no one in the audience can be surprised that things turned out for him this way, or blame him for his disgusting appearance and uncivilized bearing. McQuade has inhabited the character fully and insists, often by speaking to them directly, that the audience not avert their eyes from Arthur Cork’s destruction. Unfortunately, the noisy fans in the theater drown out some of his lines, since he occasionally lowers his voice to just above a whisper. But even so, when the lights go down at the end McQuade’s powerful performance has given the audience more than enough to break their hearts and make them furious about this pointlessly ruined life.

Note: This production is part of the 2007 NYC International Fringe Festival.

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