Sunday, December 22, 2013

Off-Broadway Review: Conor McPherson’s "The Night Alive"

The Night Alive
Written and directed by Conor McPherson
Performances through February 2, 2014
Atlantic Theatre Company, 336 West 20th Street, New York, NY

Dunne and Hinds in The Night Alive (photo: Helen Warner)
Conor McPherson’s plays have rarely moved me to any sort of praise—even the Irish Rep’s excellent revival of The Weir couldn’t make the play any better—so it’s heartening that his latest, The Night Alive, isn’t entirely negligible. Although its story and characters are too contrived to be wholly convincing, there’s enough going on that makes the whole thing palatable.

An assortment of working-class Dubliners inhabits The Night Alive: fiftyish Tommy (Ciaran Hinds), who lives hand to mouth in a dingy rented room that includes eating dog biscuits, befriends twentyish Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne) after protecting her from her bullying boyfriend Kenneth (Brian Gleeson). She ends up staying, beginning a tentative romance that elbows in on Tommy’s friendship with his odd-jobs partner, the dim bulb Doc (Michael McElhatton), who comes and goes at will, along with Tommy’s landlord Maurice (Jim Norton)—still angry over his wife’s accidental death a few years earlier—and Kenneth, who returns with violence on his mind.

McPherson’s schematic writing rarely makes his characters’ interactions credible: Tommy and Aimee’s budding relationship never reaches such heights as to deserve the sentimental fade to black McPherson gives them at the end. But there’s ample humor in his dialogue, as when Doc tells Tommy that he didn’t buy a lottery ticket this week because “it’s only 2.2 million. I wouldn’t be bothered in my hole playing for 2.2 million.”

The cast’s estimable performances find the simultaneous humor, horror and intestinal fortitude in the drudgery of their everyday lives. Best are the always delightful Jim Norton as cranky Maurice and Ciaran Hinds—the best thing about last season’s messy Scarlett Johansson revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—whose Tommy is a blustery but wholly lovable loser.

McPherson the director paces it all nimbly, abetted by Soutra Gilmour’s finely wrought set and costumes: too bad he’s saddled with McPherson the writer, who goes faux-Pinter with pseudo-pregnant pauses and arbitrary malevolence involving a hammer. Then there’s the silly, overlong—but crowd-pleasing—dance sequence of Tommy, Aimee and Doc grooving to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” Although diverting, The Night Alive is, ultimately, a trifle.

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