The Tallest Man in the World
Written by Ailís Ní Ríain
Directed by Ran Xia
Presented at The Tank, NY
March 6-17, 2019
The Tallest Man in the World, the new play by Irish writer and composer Ailís Ní Ríain, weaves a poetic and psychologically acute tale of love and loneliness. It central threads concern drink-addicted single parent Felim (Daniel Carlton), his daughter Erin (Beatriz Miranda), and the eponymous tallest man, Eamonn (Finn Kilgore), with the actors playing additional, minor characters as needed. What unites the three primary characters is a desperate longing for connection; to slightly oversimplify: Felim, long estranged from Erin, seeks companionship in alcohol and in female barflies; Erin has pursued a series of ill-advised sexual conquests culminating in an infraction that has landed her in psychiatric evaluation; and Eamonn, having become a closely guarded tourist attraction, pines in his cottage on the island of Culcheen for the return of a woman whom he met a single, memorable time. The events and decisions that have brought them to these points in their lives, as well as how their trajectories intersect, come into focus through a mixture of monologue and dialogue, the tragedy of which bears touches of the dream-like and even the mythic.
These qualities are enhanced by Xia's decision to rarely have the actors deliver their lines to one another. They are often oriented along different axes, back-to-back, or separated by a significant distance throughout the theater, emphasizing the sense of disconnection and lending increased significance to the moments when the characters are speaking while looking one another in the eye (on a more practical level, this staging helps us to imaginatively match Eamonn's stature to his descriptions of it). The play's few props, sand poured from a bottle, a blue rose, a red umbrella, make simple, clean, bold impressions; and the production also succeeds in creating an underlying sense of claustrophobia appropriate thematically to Felim and Erin and both thematically and literally to Eamonn, such that when Eamonn describes smashing out a window like the overgrown Alice trapped in the White Rabbit's house or finally standing and walking fully straight and tall, the feeling of freedom is palpable. This impact is of course also down to Kilgore's excellent performance, and Carlton and Miranda do similarly commendable work. All three slip easily into distinct secondary characters, Kilgore imbues Eamonn with a kind of wounded nobility and innocence, Carlton brings Felim's inner turmoil to agonized life, and Miranda makes tangible the regret and need beneath Erin's assertions of control (though the play refuses too easy and straightforward an interpretation of this dynamic).
For a play including rapes, suicides, gravely misdirected desire, and the anguish of the need to be loved, The Tallest Man in the World is funny as often as it is harsh or elegiac. This play is likely to stick with audiences like Eamonn's encounter with the one woman who ever made him feel blissfully small. Seeing The Tallest Man in the World should be high up on any theater fan's list. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler