By Judd Hollander
In The Night Alive, playwright Conor McPherson offers a powerful look at people on the edges of society attempting to survive the best they can. All the while trying to fight off the terrible fear of loneliness they carry inside.
In present-day Dublin Tommy (Ciarán Hinds), a good-hearted yet somewhat brutish fellow who walked out on his family, is living in an old house owned by his aged uncle Maurice (Jim Norton). Tommy's living space being best described as in a perpetual state of extreme disarray. A constant companion of Tommy's is Doc (Michael McElhatton), a bit of a slow-witted philosopher type who sometime in the past latched onto Tommy and never really left.
This tenuous living situation is disrupted when Tommy comes to the aid of the much-younger Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne) during her altercation another man. Someone she apparently knows quite well and whom she would do anything to avoid in the future. Like the rest of the characters in the story, Aimee is a bit of a question mark when it comes to her past. Is she a prostitute, a runaway or someone fleeing a bad relationship? Either way, Tommy takes her into his home and, as time goes on, begins
to see a possible future with her. Though Aimee's past and Tommy's friends may upset these perhaps too hopeful plans for the future.
The play is an involving character study about people with precious little in their lives grabbing onto whatever constants they can find in order to make themselves feel both normal and comfortable in their existence. Such as Maurice allowing Tommy to stay with him and also allowing Doc, and eventually Aimee, to crash there simply because he hates being alone. This despite him being the only one with any kind of financial wherewithal. This need also manifests itself in Tommy's continually looking after Doc simply because he feels sorry for him, as well as being a little protective, at least to a point. There's also
Doc's need to belong somewhere which is reason he keeps hanging around. It also helps that these characters are interesting enough for the audience to follow, with each having a least a few brief moments where they get to show just who they are and the desperation inside them.
Another underlying theme present is the importance of happily ever after coming at a time when everyone involved is ready for it. I.E. just because someone has fall in love with another, or thinks they have, doesn't mean the other person in the equation feels the same way; as relationships and friendships are usually contingent upon those involved being emotionally able to handle them. A point which becomes clear when Tommy makes plans to go away with Aimee, leaving Doc to his own devices.
The script and performances are nicely drawn out in a leisurely place, yet with a continual undercurrent of tension always present. Something which comes to a head when Kenneth (Brian Gleeson), Aimee's former acquaintance, suddenly appears. Said appearance serving as the catalyst for what is to follow.
Casting is very good, Hinds makes an excellent Tommy. A not-all-that-lovable loser type, but with a personal set of ethics and slowly changing priorities which make quite him intriguing. He's also the character who changes the most over the course of the story. Morton is fine as Maurice, a rather crotchety sort with a rather short temper and set-in-his-ways feel. Someone who, like Tommy, has a tender side not always visible at first glance. McElhatton is good as Doc, a good-hearted fellow with the soul of a poet. Doc's ramblings about God and the universe showing how interconnected everything is, while at the same time showing how insignificant we all are in the greater scheme of things.
Dunne works quite well as Aimee, a girl on the run. Just what she's trying to hide from or put behind her is open to question, though there are more than a few hints in that regard. There is also a hint of vulnerability behind her seemingly hard veneer. Kenneth is the one character not fully-drawn, but Gleeson makes his entrance on the scene fraught with tension, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats as they wait for what he may or may not inflict on those unlucky enough to cross his path.
McPherson, who also handles the directing chores here, helms the story with a sure hand, letting the text and characters unfold naturally with nothing feeling forced, padded or staged in any way. Soutra Gilmour's set of Tommy's room is messy enough to hide a multitude of sins, and her costumes nicely fit in with the story presented. The sound design by Gregory Clarke is also very good.
An well crafted multi-layered tale, The Night Alive presents a quietly powerful look at people's possibilities, hopes and dreams. It should also be noted however, that not everything is nice and neat when all is finished - just like life that way.
The Donmar Warehouse Production of
The Night Alive
written and directed by Conor McPherson
Featuring: Ciarán Hinds (Tommy), Caoilfhionn Dunne (Aimee), Michael
McElhatton (Doc), Jim Norton (Maurice), Brian Gleeson (Kenneth)
Sets and Costumes: Soutra Gilmour
Lights: Neil Austin
Sound: Gregory Clarke
U.K. Casting: Alistair Coomer CDG
Violence Consultant: J. David Brimmer
Production Stage Manager: Mary Kathryn Flynt
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Production Manager: Michael Wade
Associate Artistic Director: Christian Parker
General Manager: Jamie Tyrol
Assistant Stage Manager: Patrick Wetzel
Atlantic Theatre Company
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Street
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.atlantictheater.org.
Running Time: 1 Hour, 50 Minutes, no intermission
Closed: February 2, 2014