Jim Mallon spent years at Harrigan’s on Halsted drinking copious pints of Guinness while pursuing a dream, to have his life’s story documented in some significant way. Mallon’s dream is finally coming true in “A Bump On The Leg,” presented by Subtext Theater Company, written by Leigh Johnson and directed by Jonathan “Rocky” Hagloch at the St. Bonaventure Oratory Theater.
The story is narrated by Jim Mallon (Henry Bolzon), a square man with a trimmed white beard, sparkling eyes and a faint Irish brogue. Through slightly slurred speech—he always has a pint of “the good stuff” in hand—Jim takes us back to his childhood in County Armagh, Ireland, circa 1950. In front of a glowing hearth, Irish Catholic mother Annie (Hilary Hensler) prays for her son, young Jimmy (Wesley Prahl), whose leg has been afflicted by the growth of a painful tumor. Jimmy’s secular father, Edward (Andrew Pond), is less sympathetic after working all day in the field—represented by projections of pastoral countryside—but agrees to take his son into town for medical treatment.
At the hospital, Doctor Timmons (Eric Prahl) decides to amputate the leg (it’s almost lunchtime, after all), but is interrupted by Nurse O’Hara (Lauren Miller), who intercedes on the boy’s behalf and recommends a new procedure, cobalt radiation therapy.
After no apparent change in the bump, Annie decides to send Jimmy to Lourdes to have him dunked in the healing waters. Since the family is too poor to travel together, altruist Peg Gallagher in an impassioned and very long monologue shames the local barflies into donating a fraction of their tab to the effort of curing young Jimmy.
Jimmy and two chaperones travel via boats and trains, holding a railing and swaying side-to-side while a picture slideshow of destinations appear behind them. When they reach France, where Jimmy is dipped in the holy waters by two dour Frenchmen who take guesses at how many weeks he has to live.
Upon returning to Ireland, they find that the tumor is indeed shrinking and, despite the leg being perpetually two inches shorter than the other, Jimmy is cured. Was it a miracle that saved Jim’s life, or was it a delayed result of the radiation treatment? There is no way to know.
The effect the experience had on Jim was profound. The journey to and from France exposed him to new tastes, architecture and people and expanded his worldview. As soon as Jim was of age, he left Ireland for the United States, which he reckons “is the price me mother paid” for his cure. He turned away from God, but closer to the Virgin Mary, and developed his own revisionist history of Biblical times, including metaphysical ancient aliens (whose voices sound like Marvin the Martian from Looney Tunes).
Despite being a bit long and the occasional slip into American accents, “A Bump On The Leg” is a charming story. No matter how much we learn about nature and the human body, Mallon’s story proves that there is still mystery in the world. Slàinte!
Subtext Theater Company’s “A Bump On The Leg” at St. Bonaventure Oratory Theater, 1641 West Diversey, $30, subtextnfp.org, (312)767-1393. Through April 16.