Theater Review: ‘The Night Alive’

One segment of today’s Dubliners
December 18, 2013 Updated: December 17, 2013

NEW YORK—In Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive, a production brought here by the Atlantic Theater Company from London’s Donmar Warehouse, the actors shine.

McPherson himself directed the play, which takes place in an unusual Dublin living room. Once apparently elegant, the room has now fallen on hard times, or rather succumbed to the ingrained sloppiness of its occupant, Tommy (Ciaran Hinds).

The divorced Tommy hasn’t done much with his life, only doing odd jobs with his close friend Doc (Michael McElhatton), who’s around much of the time. Personality wise, Doc is pretty much invisible, but he’s always accommodating and never in the way.

This night, however, Tommy goes out drinking and returns home with a young woman, Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne). She apparently has suffered the many slings and arrows of misfortune and been thrown upon her own wits to get through life’s journey.

Tonight is especially rough, for her boyfriend, Kenneth (Brian Gleeson), beat her, and she sought refuge with Tommy.

Generally, Tommy’s peace of mind is troubled only when his landlord, actually his Uncle Maurice (Jim Norton), who occupies the upstairs flat of the house, bangs on the wall to complain about whatever noise Tommy may be making. Aimee’s presence, however, brings a new and sometimes uncomfortable dimension to Tommy’s life.

On an emotional level, Tommy and Aimee initially carefully circle one another. They eventually develop a relationship, albeit a tenuous one. Aimee has the habit of arbitrarily walking out, presumably not to return, although she invariably does.

At one point, the trio, Doc included, perform an ecstatic dance when the radio happens to light upon a tune sung by pop star Marvin Gaye, bringing them briefly out of the doldrums.

An unexpected visit by Kenneth, when only Doc and Aimee are present, throws the proceedings onto an entirely different and frightening plane. Violence ensues in what is one of the most sinister and truly terrifying scenes I have ever witnessed in theater. (J. David Brimmer is listed as violence consultant in the program notes.)

In fact, murder is done—but, under the circumstances, that could surely be cleared up as self-defense.

Oddly, not much is made of the foregoing occurrence. Tommy, who later arrives, smooths it over by simply remarking that people disappear every day. The event is never mentioned again.

The play’s ending is ambiguous, apparently deliberately so. Will Aimee stay with Tommy or will she not? I take it that the playwright has chosen to display the uncertainty of real life, for who truly knows if one’s important other will stay the distance or unexpectedly leave.

It has happened often enough for any one of us to accept the possibility of the unexpected.

The marvelous high-ceilinged set with the vestiges of a once glamorous stained-glass French window was created by Soutra Gilmour, also responsible for costumes.

Important contributions are made by Neil Austin’s lighting and Gregory Clarke’s sound.

As I initially noted, the actors, a close-knit company brought here following a run in London, are completely at home in New York. All are excellent, with possibly Ciaran Hinds, who seldom leaves the stage, supplying the greatest amount of variety and depth that melds the proceedings into a satisfying whole.

Although lacking the cohesion and tighter structure of some of Conor McPherson’s earlier works, such as the award-winning The Weir and The Seafarer seen previously in New York, The Night Alive provides an interesting look at the underside of some of today’s Dubliners.

The Night Alive
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Street
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or visit atlantictheater.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Closes: Jan. 26, 2014

Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: diabarth@juno.com.

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