Prepare to meet Tommy at a crucial moment in his life. It is late night; he has stepped out to buy a bag of “chips” (the Irish word for a product similar to French fries). And he found himself intervening to rescue Aimee, a young woman who was being assaulted. Now he has brought Aimee home with him, her face badly bruised and her nose bleeding, possibly broken. Was this a robbery? A rape? Or, perhaps, a domestic squabble? Tommy learns little else about her, except that she needs a place to stay; and he invites her to share his meager quarters.
Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive is set in contemporary Dublin. The characters could be described as down-and-out working-class “losers.” The current Honest Pint Theatre Co. and North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre co-production at NRACT, under the direction of Susannah Hough, runs one hour and 45 minutes, without intermission; but it is so engaging and so briskly paced that it seems much shorter. The dialogue is crisp and often witty, laced with humor and warmth. (Who else but McPherson could provoke sustained laughter as two characters try to determine whether or not a nose is broken?)
All of the action takes place in Tommy’s living quarters, a room that he rents from his Uncle Maurice. The room is a mess! Old, mismatched wallpaper covers the walls, which are adorned with a multitude of posters (including a picture of Marvin Gaye and a travel-to-Finland poster). These are sloppily taped up with black tape.
Fast-food trash is scattered everywhere, and there are huge trash bags stuffed with clothes and other stuff all over the place. The bed, of course, is unmade. In short, Thomas Mauney’s set, liberally littered with Amy Massey’s props, clearly defines the state of Tommy’s world and life.
The first few scenes are structured so as to individually introduce Uncle Maurice and “Doc” (Tommy’s somewhat slow-witted friend and business partner), thereby enabling us to experience their connections with Tommy one-on-one. How exactly will Aimee’s presence impact this fragile little ecosystem?
John Allore’s performance of Tommy is nothing short of poetry-in-motion. The script tells us that the character is estranged from his wife and children and that he is pretty much a failure at most other endeavors, too. Allore’s posture, his body language, and his inflections confirm all of this.
As despondent as he is, however, Tommy has the capacity to rally as a “Good Samaritan.” And Allore’s Tommy conveys genuine tenderness toward Aimee. Watch, also, for Tommy to contradict Hamlet. “The question” is not “to be or not to be.” Rather, it is “What’s Going On?”
As “Doc,” David Henderson leaves little doubt that he is “five to seven seconds” behind the rest of the world. There is a bond between Doc and Tommy that transcends ordinary friendship or business relations. Their brief celebration of Marvin Gaye’s music is funny and touching, and Tommy’s invitation to Aimee to join in has a visible effect on Doc. Henderson is also a hoot when he reads from a book that he recently purchased: How to Survive Life-Threatening Situations. Silly? Yes, but foreshadowing, as well.
Samantha Corey gives us an Aimee who appears totally helpless and vulnerable, but still has an inner strength. Like Tommy, she harbors a streak of fatalism that hampers her ability to conceive concrete dreams and ambitions. Aimee has clearly been beaten up emotionally as well as physically, repeatedly. And Corey’s performance shows that she is used to it. A note about Corey’s makeup artistry: she goes above and beyond — be prepared to be impressed, when you least expect it.
Mark Phialas shows depth as the crusty Uncle Maurice. He warns Aimee: “I can’t have any trouble, and Tommy doesn’t need any trouble.” Maurice is a widower, and Phialas shows that he harbors feelings of guilt over his wife’s death. He has been hosting annual memorial services for her since her death, and he is disappointed when Tommy misses this year’s poorly attended “anniversary.”
Maurice and his wife raised Tommy. Now Maurice is critical of Tommy’s fatalism: “You’re just knocking days off the calendar,” he tells him.
From “the dark side,” Sean Brosnahan enters as Kenneth, looking for Aimee and for Tommy. He intends to claim Aimee and to settle a score with Tommy. Doc gets caught in the crossfire. Brosnahan delivers a character who is a coldly calculating psychopath, totally in control of his out-of-control actions. Even when Kenneth is feigning civility, Brosnahan leaves no doubt about his malevolence.
Dialect coach Benjamin Curns has collaborated well with these five. They all deliver the music of the Irish accent and inflection without even a hint of “stage-Irishman” parody.
Conor McPherson’s plays often include an element of the supernatural. The Night Alive seems to contain something supernatural within the natural. Aimee seems to be every bit as much a savior for Tommy as he is for her. There seems to be a creation of a new world, a creation of order-out-of-chaos, as she settles into his life. The dialogue includes discussions of death and of black holes in space. Is there room, also, for the concept of resurrection? Is it possible to live happily-ever-after?
A quick tip-of-the-hat to Laura J. Parker and her costume designs — every outfit is character-appropriate. And she shows restraint by refraining from going overboard with Kenny’s “bad-ass” attire.
Under Susannah Hough’s direction, this joint North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre and Honest Pint Theatre Co. presentation of The Night Alive provokes plenty of laugh-out-loud laughter and plenty of warm smiles. It also provides moments of tension, and it elicits the occasional tear. Above all, however, the play raises interesting topics to think about and discuss.
We highly recommend this production of The Night Alive. We would also like to suggest arriving early enough to read and digest the director’s notes on the inside back cover of the program. If possible, attend this play with another intelligent theater patron, and plan on spending some time discussing it afterwards because — after the show, it is quite easy to keep The Night Alive.
From The Egg-Head Department:
Ninety-some years ago, Seán O’Casey penned a masterpiece set in Dublin Ireland — Juno and the Paycock. O’Casey made a name for himself creating endearing, down-on-their-luck, working-class characters. These were characters for whom we could cheer as they achieved their minor triumphs. They were also characters for whom we could fear when they faced danger. And they were characters with whom (and at whom) we could laugh as their shortcomings and silliness surfaced. Above all, they were real, totally fleshed-out characters that we could get to know intimately in the brief encounter we had with them while watching an O’Casey play.
Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive shows that McPherson and his characters are cut from the same cloth, that McPherson is, indeed, an heir to O’Casey’s mantel. Watching Tommy and Doc interact, we were reminded of O’Casey’s “Captain” Jack Boyle and his sidekick, Joxer Daly.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 16th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article133161149.html; and Feb. 8th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-night-alive/Event?oid=5103885. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 13th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/02/conor-mcphersons-the-night-alive-gives-a-stellar-cast-a-chance-to-shine-at-nract/.)
Honest Pint Theatre Co. and North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre present THE NIGHT ALIVE at 8 p.m. Feb. 17 and 18, 3 p.m. Feb. 19, and 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.nract.org/shows/#/tickets/.
SHOW: http://www.honestpinttheatre.org/the-night-alive-ensemble, http://www.nract.org/shows/#/thenightalive/, and https://www.facebook.com/events/231533600589477/.
Honest Pint Theatre Co.: http://www.honestpinttheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/honestpinttheatrecompany, https://twitter.com/honestpintthe8r, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9jvpkyjZ1mzZGy1t3BV8mQ.
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19th, performance.
The Night Alive (2013 West End and Off-Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4894 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/client/conor-mcpherson/work/the-night-alive (Curtis Brown page), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/5694 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_Alive (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Conor McPherson (Irish playwright and screenwriter): https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/client/conor-mcpherson (Curtis Brown bio), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/3504 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/conor-mcpherson-4900 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0574217/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conor_McPherson (Wikipedia).
Susannah Hough (director): https://www.facebook.com/susannahhough (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.