Alas, dear reader, once again I am stuck in a tale of good-news/bad-news. Being a glass-half-full kind of a gal, I figure why not try to start with the good? “The Night Alive” is the much-awaited winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle best play award by Conor McPherson. Director Randall Arney has peopled his production with an all-Irish cast who easily populate this gathering of lost souls with the gift of gab.
For two years — ever since his wife threw him out — late middle-aged Tommy (Paul Vincent O’Connor) has rented a room in the Dublin house of his widower uncle Maurice (Denis Arndt). Tommy, a mess himself, has turned the room into a pig’s sty of unwashed clothes, unemptied trash, and general disarray, well-realized by scenic designer Takeshi Kata. Turns out, Maurice raised Tommy from the age of 4 and is sorely disappointed in the mess Tommy has made of his room and his life. Doc (Dan Donohue), Tommy’s occasional assistant in his occasional hauling business, occasionally shares the room. He sleeps on a camp cot, when Doc’s sister’s boyfriend, not so occasionally, throws him out. Doc is disabled, it takes him five to seven seconds to understand something new that is said to him. Tommy more or less pays Doc off the books so as not to jeopardize his disability payments. None of the other characters is exactly abled, but they have been getting along (more than getting along) with colorful, often humorous, Irish turns of phrases.
What, pray tell, could go wrong in this setting of domestic homeostasis? On one more run for fish and chips, Tommy comes upon a bloodied sometime prostitute, Aimee (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) being thrown out of some guy’s car. He brings her back to his room. Is this going to meet with approval with the other two men? You tell me. Does the guy, Aimee’s boyfriend Kenneth (Peter O’Meara) show up to further throw a wrench in the picture? You betcha he does, and he’s the best-dressed biggest loser of all, but he inserts the drama in the drama. It is another case of “rescue fantasy” meets “no good deed goes unpunished.”
Oops, I see I am drifting into the empty part of the glass. But here goes. Every time you start to think “The playwright’s grasp of dialogue in the Irish idiom is good, but do I want to spend the evening with these folks?” McPherson throws in another wrinkle for the plot. Not wanting to remove whatever suspense you may feel, let me give you a small example: Supposedly slow-witted, Doc starts talking, albeit simplistically, about black holes. Does this make sense? Does it move things along? I don’t think so. It is just a vehicle to give McPherson a final resolution, resolving little. Perhaps the metaphoric black hole is the void these lives have fallen into; some audience members see something more spiritual, whatever they mean by that. Maybe it just means that he ran out of wrinkles. What it seems to mean for McPherson is that that 100 minutes are over. It is time to let the audience go and get their own fish and chips.