John McDonagh. Photo by Colby Tarsitano.

John McDonagh. Photo by Colby Tarsitano.

By Stanford Friedman

Did you hear the one about the Irish taxi driver who created his own one-man show? It was more than fare. John McDonagh has not only been earning his keep in a yellow cab for the past 35 years, he has amassed a full resume of semi-celebrity appearances on radio, TV and the tabloids, and has been a dedicated political activist to boot. Google him up and you’ll find many an article like the 1998 New York Observer piece that called him “New York’s heckler-in-chief of the Irish peace process.” Thus the title Cabtivist, if hard on the ear, is an entirely accurate mash-up of his passions. It may be oxymoronic to say, but this guy behind the wheel is tireless.

These three facets, his driving, his fame and his politics, each take up a portion of the proceedings. Told with the help of slides and video clips, the material is unapologetically old school; a travelogue of his heydays when George W. Bush was the enemy and the Irish Republican Army made headlines beyond the Irish press. Such stories. There was the time the cops made him take a homeless woman to a shelter without paying him, causing him to doubt his humanity, and the time his political prank accidentally shut down Times Square, and the time he came this close to being a contestant on The Amazing Race. It’s also a peek at old school New York. There are the elderly Upper East Siders that he transports in what he calls a “medical vortex,” the endless loop between their apartments and Mount Sinai Hospital. There is the Italian social club in his home borough of Queens where he apparently fraternizes with the mob and runs up gambling debts with his bookie. And there was the old Lower East Side, with its party boys and drug dens.

McDonagh is no Travis Bickle, but his sense of humor has the decidedly rough edge that comes with the territory. His opening remarks about how the horses of Central Park have it better than city drivers seems painfully on the mark, and he is hilariously politically incorrect when arguing that Fox News is a bunch of Nazis. He suggests downloading the Fox News app to hear the broadcasts “in their original German.”

If the goal of theater is to entertain and educate an audience, then McDonagh has undeniably fulfilled his duty. For better or worse, this is not so much a monologue in the spirit of, say, Spalding Gray, as it is a night at the pub sitting next to a good storyteller, sans the pub. A little more emotional depth, a little more structure in the script and a little more artistry in the performance could deliver Cabtivist to greatness. But for now, McDonagh gets plenty of mileage from his well-polished gift of gab.

Cabtivist – Written and performed by John McDonagh, Directed by Kira Simring.

Music by Rory Kirwin, Media and Graphic Design by Madden McDonagh. Mad*Dad Productions at the New York International Fringe Festival. The Huron Club, 15 Vandam St.  Through August 27. Running time: 1 hour.