Michael Moriarty’s ‘Special’ Way of Sharing Self-Discovery : Theater review: One-man show has bright humor, but soapbox gets in the way.


Michael Moriarty likes to take chances with his maverick beliefs. Along with his angry tilting at Janet Reno about television violence, and his almost as violent resignation from his role as Dist. Atty. Ben Stone on NBC’s “Law and Order,” he has begun to examine himself, most prominently in his one-man show, “A Special Providence.”

During his performance of the piece Saturday at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts--a one-night stand--Moriarty made it clear he has a lot to say, not only about himself, but also about life in general.

His self-labeled “auto-mythography,” he says, explains how Shakespeare saved Moriarty’s life. By this he seems to imply that an early infusion of the Bard’s glorious language saved him from his Midwestern background.


Moriarty bounces onstage, cavorting and frolicking in jeans and a massive smock. Behind him is a large statue of Italian poet Dante Alighieri, whose “Divine Comedy” becomes a metaphor for his salvation as an artist.

Moriarty introduces Shakespeare, who, he says, will play Moriarty for the evening. Shakespeare will also play the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, Ernest Hart (a Dickensian euphemism for Moriarty’s younger persona) and, for variety, a brash, working-class type named Francis Xavier Markham P. Bloom Freely.

“A Special Providence,” though multi-charactered, is not a play. It more closely resembles a Shavian conversation, presenting all sides of the problematical subject of Michael Moriarty. It is not Shavian in depth, though, and, in spite of its bright humor, it is rather a dramaturgical muddle.

Part of the muddle is the contemporary actors’ belief that their sociopolitical views are more valid than those of ordinary mortals. As Moriarty explains himself, he often is touching, taking a bittersweet glance at his flaws.

When he pontificates, his soapbox gets in the way of his play and his performance. But Shakespeare, the Dark Lady, Freely and Hart persist in their search for more glorious imagery as the characters move from New York to Florence and London, trips that add little to our insights into art, drama or Moriarty.

Moriarty asks if there is a special providence in each of us and answers by finally admitting: “I love the country of me. I love the church of me. I love the theater of me.” He admits his own special providence without letting us into the interior of his mind, where that providence might be lurking grandly in the mists of growing wisdom.


His dramatic journeys, even into art and literature, are more geographical than intellectual.

His Bard is delightfully adept at one-liners but nowhere near the mind that wrote the plays. His Dark Lady is vapid enough to prove that the sonnets might not really have been written to a woman, as is often supposed. Freely contributes some chuckles, but little else, and Hart as young Moriarty is liquid enough to have been alchemized by Marlowe or Sheridan rather than Shakespeare.

Moriarty’s performance is skittish. Much of his dialogue is rattled off so quickly as to suggest Moriarty is afraid that if he slows down he’ll be found out.

When he does slow to normal tempos, his targets are clear and his aim sure. No director is credited, so it is assumed that Moriarty didn’t feel the need. Another eye, and another ear, might have cleared up some of the script’s muddle and the performance’s kinetic overkill.