Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lacking Authority

Port Authority
By Conor McPherson
Directed by Henry Wishcamper
Starring John Gallagher, Jr., Brian d'Arcy James, Jim Norton

Alantic Theater Company
336 West 20th Street

Jim Norton
(photo: Doug Hamilton)
The gift of gab doesn’t always translate well to the stage, if the latest monologues by Irish playwrights are any indication. Earlier this season, we had Abbie Spallen’s feeble Pumpgirl at the Manhattan Theatre Club. And now there’s Conor McPherson’s Port Authority, a presentation of the Atlantic Theater Company.

Brian Friel’s brilliant character study Faith Healer is the exception that proves the rule. Monologues tend to lack dramatic conflict, unless they are in the hands of a genius like Friel. Shakespeare, of course, knew this better than anybody; he placed his monologues, or soliloquies, inside five-act plays filled with dialogue and dozens of speaking roles.

McPherson’s Port Authority introduces three tortured individuals who tell stories of their disappointments with female companionship. Kevin is a twentyish ne’er do-well, Dermot is a fortyish family man, and Joe is a seventyish retiree. McPherson pens good yarns for this trio, but Port Authority asks the audience to find drama in the most tenuous connections -- that the wife of Dermot’s boss once lived next door to Joe, or that Kevin is friends with members of a local band called The Bangers and Dermot goes on a “business” trip to L.A. to see a hot Irish band called....The Bangers.

In the end, none of this satisfies. The few revelations strain credulity, and McPherson doesn’t even bother to tack on a “shock” ending, which at least gave Shining City a brief frisson. In a desperate attempt at variety, director Henry Wishcamper has the actors do something other than simply sit down on the large bench at center stage after they finish each monologue. So an actor may linger for a few moments after the next monologue begins, or he may walk upstage and face away from the audience.

The performances of the cast -- John Gallagher, Jr. (Kevin) and Brian d’Arcy James (Dermot), both with perfectly simulated brogues, and Jim Norton (Joe), who comes by his naturally -- are as good as one could hope for. All that’s missing from Port Authority is real drama.

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