BWW Review: Scena Theatre's THE NIGHT ALIVE is Supernaturally Good
"May lost souls find salvation" is the tagline of Scena Theatre's production of Conor McPherson's modern Irish play THE NIGHT ALIVE. Any lost souls wandering into this production will find it worth seeing for its superb Irish actors, Barry McEvoy and Brian Mallon, alone. They're also likely to find salvation in a story that elevates the everyday to heavenly heights.
Working-class Tommy (McEvoy) and his dim-witted buddy Doc (Mallon) struggle to make a living doing odd jobs in Dublin. One night, Tommy rescues a young sometimes-prostitute, Aimee (a spunky Mollie Goff), from her violent ex-boyfriend, sheltering her in his grubby, garbage-strewn "flat" (set designer Michael C. Stepowany) and hiding her from his colorful landlord/uncle Maurice (the excellent Ron Litman). She stays a while. All together, they're a motley, misguided crew, each trying to find their way in a bleak life.
What makes this play so different from others with the same general setup is the subtle feeling that it's both real and unreal. It's real because of the deep authenticity of the acting. Thanks to the easy aura of the cast and the heavy dose of dark humor in the script, the characters are instantly sympathetic. The performers, especially McEvoy and Mallon, do more than disappear into their roles. They make it feel as though we're peering through a window at strangely familiar scenes. In one such scene, Doc, as frustrating as he is endearing, brings chips and soda to the flat to share. He turns on the radio and breaks into a loosely choreographed dance with Tommy and Aimee to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". Through their unbridled enjoyment of something so simple, the moment ascends to the unreal.
It all leads to a philosophical question: what is going on? When Kenneth (a calculating Robert Sheire) arrives, it's nothing good. With his flame-red hipster haircut and fake vampire teeth, Kenneth terrorizes Doc in a scene that becomes harrowing. He's the one character who's pure evil, and he's bound to return, even more menacing than before.
The play feels slightly long, with one or two false endings, but this is forgivable. After all, it allows us more of Litman's staggering, exaggerated Maurice, as he revels in wry humor to compensate for the grief he feels from the loss of his wife. The extra time also allows us plenty of insightful moments from Doc. He contemplates time waves, black holes, the existence of God. He's the embodiment of the play itself: unassuming on the surface, but surprisingly deep.
THE NIGHT ALIVE delivers on McPherson's tendency to incorporate the supernatural, but in such a grounded way that it's almost subconscious. In the capable hands of director Robert McNamara and a near-perfect combination of actors, it transcends this earthly plane.
Running time: approximately 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission.
Scena Theatre's THE NIGHT ALIVE runs through April 9th, 2017, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center - Lab II, 1333 H St. NE, Washington, DC 20002. Tickets can be purchased at www.atlasarts.org or by calling 202-399-7993.
Photo: From left, Ron Litman as Maurice and Barry McEvoy as Tommy in THE NIGHT ALIVE; Jae Yi Photography.