by Eric J. Grimm
Mark Thomas, the UK comedian whose one-man show, Cuckooed, is currently playing at 59E59, puts us all to shame. As a tireless activist, he has taken on big corporations guilty of human rights violations for decades. As if his record as an activist—too long to fit in a review—weren’t impressive enough, he also manages to recount his exploits in polished works of theater that showcase his manic energy and excitement for dirty work. Written by Thomas and skillfully directed by Emma Callander, Cuckooed, with its breakneck pace and devastating subject matter, shows Thomas’ skill as a deeply personal storyteller with the ability to stir righteous indignation in his audience.
Thomas painstakingly details how he has used his job, throughout the years, as both a television presenter and prankster to confront arms manufacturers. Along with fellow activists, who are interviewed throughout in clever uses of multimedia, Thomas embarrasses and infuriates war profiteers with showstopping measures that he recounts with glee. His mission becomes complicated when he is made aware of betrayal within his ranks. Thomas skillfully narrativizes the troubling time in his life, balancing his raucous exploits with his inner turmoil without falling prey to sentimentality.
As a comedian, Thomas is clearly seasoned, holding himself in total physical control and delivering punchlines like vicious blows. He’s going head to head with scary people with little regard for how their actions negatively impact others; his abrasive approach never feels less than appropriate. At the conclusion of the show, Thomas made a convincing case to join his cause, achieving a rare feat of using theater as a call to action beyond the stage.
Cuckooed. Through November 21 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues). www.59e59.org
*Photos by Richard Davenport