The Miracle Man ***

PE teacher Ozzy is searching for meaning.  His famed father, a great Scottish writer, is dying of cancer.  His students are far more interested in an American guru than in learning about healthy eating.  The headmaster takes sport in shooting down Ozzy’s ideas and in reminding him that he must feel small in comparison to his father.  And then there’s the nurse that Ozzy fancies but just can’t seem to connect with.

Douglas Maxwell has a lot to say in The Miracle Man.  Within it, he explores themes of religious practice in schools, living within the shadow of parents, dealing with the upcoming death of a loved one, personal and parental expectation, the importance of healthy eating, regulations within the classroom, the trials of trying to fit in, the effects of living within a broken home and just how much of a letdown losing your virginity usually is. 

With all of these ideas, The Miracle Man is certainly a busy play.  That fact is both its strength and greatest stumbling block, because like its protagonist, The Miracle Man is a play with so much desire for meaning that it can’t really hold on to anything long enough to hit home.

Director Vicky Featherstone has certainly created a production with a lot of flare.  The energy never lets up for its two-and-a-half hour running time, and she creates a number of moments that are both highly theatrical yet also personable.

Featherstone is assisted by a solid ensemble.  It’s headed by Keith Fleming, whose understated Ozzy is heartbreaking.  He’s a man constantly kicked by life but who just doesn’t give up.  Shabana Bakhsh, Ross Allan and Charlene Boyd are great as the students, and Sally Reid has some nice moments as Paula.  With such great performances, it’s rather unfortunate that the play is too busy bouncing around different themes to allow any of them to completely own a solid moment.

Thank goodness then for Jimmy Chisolm.  He has a rather nice moment playing Ozzy’s dad, Lewis, but his brilliant portrayal of Headmaster Healy is one of the funniest things to hit a Scottish stage in some time.  He has taken Maxwell’s part and has turned him into a caricature so over-the-top that he dominates whenever he’s onstage.

That’s the strange thing about The Miracle Man.  It has a lot going for it with well-written scenes, solid direction and great performances.  However, without one solid foundation, the multiple threads become a juggling act, making the production look like one large identity crisis in search of a dramaturgical miracle.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Performing throughout Scotland until April 3.  For details, see the NTS website.

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