Wednesday, November 12, 2014

“Port Authority” - A Sometimes Poignant, Sometimes Amusing Look Backwards

By Judd Hollander
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Using extended and interspersed monologues, playwright Conor McPherson does a good job in tapping into three lives filled with emptiness and regret in his work Port Authority, a winning revival of which is currently being presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre at their temporary space at the DR2 Theatre.

The lives in question, spanning three generations, belong to Kevin (James Russell), a fellow in his early twenties who hangs with the rocker crowd; Dermot (Billy Carter) a man in late thirties who never really amounted to anything; and Joe (Peter Maloney), a man of seventy, now living at an old age home.

Kevin is currently sharing a house with three other people and finds himself drawn to Clare, the girlfriend of another in the group. Yet despite the ease and friendship he and Clare feel for each other, the chance of them actually becoming a couple seems especially remote. Especially when Kevin takes up with Trish, who works at the bar downstairs from the club the group frequents.

Dermot is terribly excited about suddenly landing his dream job and desperately wants to make a good impression with his new employers. So much so he lies to his wife Mary, telling her that the company functions he's been invited to are only for staff. Dermot being somewhat ashamed of Mary, feeling she's too simple to introduce to the people with whom he's now going to be working. Though in actuality Dermot's biggest stumbling block is his own insecurities. Worrying that he won't fit in or say the right things and trying compensate with large amounts of liquid courage on a regular basis.

As for Joe, he once had an infatuation for his next door neighbor's wife. Feeling a deep connection to her he could never put into words, even to himself. This despite his being happily married himself at the time. Now, with just about everyone from that period in his life gone, a package he receives in the mail rekindles those old memories and shame.

If there's a common theme running through these stories, it's one of missed opportunities and wrong choices made.  Each man seems willing to settle for less than what he might have had otherwise. Though whether actually going after such a goal would have been an good idea is somewhat questionable. There is a bit of linkage between the three tales, though they're basically all stand alone pieces -- none of the performers or their characters acknowledging each other's presence.

The actors all do fine work with the material, each being able to bring to life the situations presented and the different characters they embody. An important point as the actors are basically speaking on a pretty much bare stage with only a brick wall and a few benches to use as props. Russell nicely shows Kevin's innocence and the laissez-faire attitude of youth -- someone who feels that he has all the time in the world left to him. Conversely, Maloney does especially fine work in showing the desperation and sadness that comes with old age and facing the fact that some chances are gone forever. Carter is excellent as Dermot, wonderfully putting across the character's feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment and total humiliation. It's also interesting to note that Russell, Dermot and Joe all try their best to avoid making decisions whenever possible; preferring instead to let things happen to them rather than trying to make them happen.

It helps tremendously that McPherson's text is quite image filled, and if it's not what one would call lyrical, it's certainly universal enough for the audience to be able to relate to. From desperately wanting to make a good impression in a new job, to the pain of letting a love slip through your fingers, to the blindness of youth when the most important thing was just having a good time and letting the future take care of itself.

Ciarán O'Reilly's direction is quite good, keeping the story moving at a smooth and leisurely pace yet still strong enough to allow the performances to be both interesting and involving. All of which is key here as one wants to see where the individual tales lead and find out what's going to happen to these characters.

Lighting design by Michael Gottlieb is very effective in the transitions from one monologue to the next. M. Florian Staab's sound design also helping in the switching of stories.

Port Authority makes for a touching experience as three lost souls, even if they all don't yet realize how lost they are, look back on what was and what could have been.

Pictured (L. to R.): James Russell, Peter Maloney and Billy Carter.

Port Authority
By Conor McPherson

Featuring James Russell (Kevin), Billy Carter (Dermot), Peter Maloney (Joe)

Scenic Design (Charlie Corcoran)
Costume Design: Linda Fisher
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb
Sound Design: M. Florian Staab
Music: Ryan Rumery
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Production Stage Manager: Pamela Brusoski
Assistant Stage Manager: Rebecca C. Monroe
Press Representative: Coyle Entertainment
Directed by Ciarán O'Reilly

Presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre
DR2 Theatre
103 East 15th Street in Union Square
Tickets: 212-727-2737 or

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes with no intermission

Closes: November 16, 2014