Extremely Interesting Stranger [by Tim George]
I once knew a man who dabbled in filmmaking. His dream was not to win awards or make money. His movies were far too niche and esoteric for that. His dream was to reach a tone. He called it ‘tragic ecstasy’ — a perfect symbiosis of tragedy and comedy, the tone of the human experience.
Rather heady stuff, but that phrase was all I could think of while watching Respite, Eamonn Marra’s extremely funny and rather touching monologue about his battle to maintain his sanity in a world of natural disasters and non fair trade bananas.
From the Christchurch earthquake to Marra’s abortive attempts at self-betterment, from his bizarre encounter with skin heads to an equally surreal epiphany involving a pipe in his room, Respite manages to be both wide-ranging and intimate in its scope.
Part of the charm is how simple the set-up is. It is just a man in a chair, telling a story. Surrounded by stacks of the books he loves, Marra tells his story with loose, breezy style that makes you feel like you are having a conversation with an extremely interesting stranger down at your local.
Marra is a comedian from Wellington, and there is a certain participatory element to his interactions with the audience that makes it feel like stand-up. If he misses a beat (or a mysterious cellphone goes off), he is able to maintain the general thrust of his story. Peppering his stories with offhand asides and in-the-moment observations, Marra’s monologue never feels like one because it never feels rehearsed. It feels real.
Equal parts funny and sad, Marra’s deeply personal story is one of the unexpected pleasures that makes the Basement such a vital part of the Auckland theatre scene. Check it out.
Respite plays at The Basement until 3rd October. Details see The Basement.