BWW Reviews: THE NIGHT ALIVE Absorbing Drama at the Geffen

By: Feb. 17, 2015

The Night Alive/by Conor McPherson/directed by Randall Arney/Geffen Playhouse/through March 15

As my eyes panned across the Geffen Playhouse stage before the opening of Conor McPherson's The Night Alive, I could not help but notice the large poster of the film The Great Escape on the wall of Takeshi Kata's set of the dingy Edwardian house in Phoenix Park, Dublin that is the home of Maurice, nephew Tommy and sometimes business partner Doc. Would it tell something about the characters' plight or condition? After all, this is contemporary Dublin, Ireland. There's poverty, isolation and about as much unhappiness as one would find anywhere else in the world in this day and age, maybe more.

Maurice (Denis Arndt) owns this old, run-down house and lives upstairs. His nephew Tommy (Paul Vincent O'Connor) middle-aged, bald and shabbily dressed drives a van, and he and partner Doc (Dan Donahue) who do odd jobs for a living, share the apartment below. When the play opens, Maurice is surveying the room from the front door and he quickly exits as Tommy and a girl Aimee (Fiona O'Shaughnessy) enter through the back door. Fiona is bloodied, with a possible broken nose. Tommy, out of kindness, has rescued Fiona from an assault on her by her boyfriend Kenneth (Peter O'Meara), who shows up much later. Fiona is in worse condition physically, emotionally and financially than Tommy and he takes her in, since Doc only sleeps over on occasion when his sister throws him out. Tommy is desperately lonely and as time goes on, he develops a fondness for Aimee, and lets her give him a handjob - for cash. Doc and Maurice are less than thrilled by Aimee's presence, Maurice because of her low class problematic state and Doc, because she is taking up the precious time Tommy would ordinarily spend with him. Doc is a curiously intelligent oddfellow with a million quirks, but who loves to read books about surviving disasters and to talk about the black hole and the whole scientific concept of time. Little does he know that very soon he will be the victim of a disaster himself and left to struggle on his own.

Of course, Maurice is right. Aimee is trouble and takes and takes - even tries to steal money from Tommy, who keeps his ready cash in a tin box under the floor boards. For all the kind treatment Tommy gives Aimee, Doc and Maurice, he gets little support and kindness in return. And he, above all, deserves to find happiness.

All the characters are victims. Tommy is somewhat mistreated by Maurice - but in a parental way, Doc brutally by Kenneth, Aimee brutally by Kenneth and finally Tommy by Aimee. The psychological hurt experienced by Tommy is the worst of all, as he has fallen in love with Aimee. In playwright Conor McPherson's mind it is how we accept the mistreatment, that comes in unexpected ways, that may create dynamic changes in the way we live. Allow something special to come into your life and be prepared for surprises both good and bad, but in the long run, urgently life-affirming. Those of us who get what we want readily, may find momentary satisfaction, but it is hardly meant to last or create any significant transformation from within. It is this change that McPherson desires his characters to achieve.

Going back to the beginning and my reference to The Great Escape, there is a dynamically gripping, dramatic tension that one can feel throughout the play...that something is about to happen from moment to moment...that will change the characters' course and perhaps our own perspective forever.

No matter how we interpret the ending, whether it be reality or the effect of passing through the black hole with light and time becoming insignificant, what we get is a happy ending for Tommy. We have sympathized with him and are content with his final reckoning.

The acting under Randall Arney's fluid direction is marvelous from the entire ensemble, with special nod to Dan Donahue as eccentric Doc for his delightfully quirky sense of fun and Patrick Vincent O'Connor who makes Tommy such a gentle, humble human being, deserving of love. O'Connor had me rooting and cheering for Tommy.

Beware: there is blood and violence. Leave the little tykes at home!