By Aaron Vallely
Back in Dublin, many people believe the taxi-man is an unofficial public gauge. If you want to know about other people's business, you best ask the taxi-man on the night shift. Now, one of New York's more recognizable cab drivers, John McDonagh, has written a rip-roaring, side-splitting, tongue-in-cheek one-man play - "Cabtivist,” which has been showing at the Cell Theatre - in which he personally relays his experience for the amusement of audiences.
Hailing, as it were, from Long Island City, McDonagh beat the streets from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. There are some terribly funny film clips interspersed throughout the performance, including his chaperoning of English actor and comedian Stephen Fry to a bullet-riddled social club for Italian gang types, where they talk shootings, gambling and sports. McDonagh even had to promise the television producers that Fry wouldn't get shot. Then there was the interview of him by Neil Cavuto on Fox News during the 2004 Republican Convention in New York, in which McDonagh discussed his invitation to transport Bill O'Reilly to the airport to fight in Iraq, as O'Reilly had publicly volunteered that he would be willing to do so.
And, there is the time John and his friend Seth partook in the screening process for the reality television show “The Amazing Race.” It was only once they had to endure some of the regular puzzles it actually occurred to them, that, in actual fact, neither of them had ever watched the show. They were instructed to go back to the Los Angeles hotel room they had been quarantined by producers, and had their hands stuffed with boxsets of the entire series. They watched them back-to-back. Once it came to show-time, producers asked McDonagh's friend Seth to fall back on his inheritance and “Jew it up for the cameras,” meanwhile John was exaggerating his Irishness, yelling about “Danny Boy,” because, he tells us, "that's the kind of thing they expect you to do out there." They never won the $1 million, by the way.
There is also the time he hired out an electronic advertisement in “Crime Square,” which displayed the acronym "UTP.” McDonagh is a proud Irish American, whose family was the only one in his neighborhood to have their house painted green. And so, news broke out all over New York about how it was the Irish Republican Army that had hijacked a sign displaying the provocative message "Up The Provos" (the Provos being the Provisional Irish Republican Army), to which, when interrogated by the media, the sign facilitator nervously replied, "They were Irish. I presumed that the sign meant 'Up The Pope.’"
McDonagh finishes his play with all manner of anecdotes from his 35 years behind the wheel and a poem, "What Happened To My City?" which he read out for a PEN Poetry Project at Cooper Union, the same place Abraham Lincoln gave that famous speech. Salmon Rushdie was in the wings, and he admits successfully resisting the temptation to shout "Allah Akbahr," as a joke referencing the fact that Rushdie has been a long-term target of fundamentalist Muslims.
It is a play worth seeing, with its stories that would be the envy of the great and the good at dinner parties, and anecdotes that would rank as platinum pub conversation. Peppered with gossip, jokes, reflections, frustrations, and hopes, John McDonagh's “Cabtivist” is, quite simply, delightful.