Had Mark Twain driven a yellow cab instead of a riverboat, his stories might’ve been like those of populist raconteur John McDonagh, playwright/activist/WBAI radio host/taxi driver since 1973. This thoroughly entertaining piece takes us through 40 years of loopy, can-do political gesture, misadventure, and unpretentious observation of human nature made while navigating the city he loves.
Archival photos and film as well as spot-on illustrative images add dimensionality and humor. (Chris Kateff- Projection Design) A terrifically imaginative Set made of actual car parts, graphics and lights creates ample atmosphere. (Charlie Corcoran)
McDonagh graduated Grover Cleveland High School in Queens a long-haired hippie with implicit choice of three futures: The New York Fire, Sanitation, or Police Department. After a brief “nightmare” stint in the army, he secured his New York hack license figuring on “the usual five years.” We see decades of licenses cascade on the screen.
A comparison of the lives of local cab drivers to Central Park carriage horses shows the equines coming out ahead on all fronts. Did you know the latter are Teamsters? They have better medical care, work eight hours instead of the 14 to 16 hours drivers need to make a living, don’t come out in bad weather, get four weeks vacation, and retire to a stud farm.
We hear about The Upper East Side Medical Vortex, trying to get a pair of 718 Brooklyn hipsters to their 212 baby hospital while the mother has contractions, impotence in the face of cops, the risks of driving at night. An episode during which McDonagh and a buddy almost become contestants on The Amazing Race television show is Kafkaesque. There’s real film from an aborted taxi reality series and an excerpt from a BBC/Stephen Fry documentary on America wherein our guy ends up taking the actor to a real Good Fellas social club in what’s now called Ridgewick= Ridgewood near Bushwick.
Political action includes an electronic IRA sign over Times Square whose sentiments were obscured by eye-catching graphics and organizing a demonstration that offered delegates to The Republican National Convention free trips to the airport if flying to Iraq. (Bill O’Reilly had said he wouldn’t send his son, but was willing to go himself.) This landed the activist on Fox interviewed – i.e. set up – by Neil Cavuto.
McDonagh closes with “What Happened to My City?”, a poem that was read aloud at a meeting of the prestigious literary organization PEN. It brings to mind William Carlos Williams.
The performer’s New Yawk accent i.e. his man-of-the-people roots, easy manner, integrity and keen-eyed humanity, make my comparison to Twain organic. Let story themes be intriguing postcards, it’s the journey that makes this worthwhile.
Director Ciaran O’Reilly allows the artist to be natural, yet utilize the small stage with creativity. Pacing is excellent.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Off the Meter, On the Record: Driving New York City Crazy for 35 Years
Written and Performed by John McDonagh
Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Through November 5, 2017
Irish Repertory Theater
132 West 22nd Street