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Review: McPherson's THE NIGHT ALIVE is Charming and Chilling

You might not guess it by looking at him, but Tommy, the protagonist of playwright/director Conor McPherson's charming and chilling The Night Alive, is quite the gentleman.

Caoilfhionn Dunne and Ciarán Hinds
(Photo: Helen Warner)

Sensitively portrayed by Ciarán Hinds in the Donmar Warehouse production that has just transferred, with its original cast, to the Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater, Tommy is hulking man with a large gut and a lumbering posture. His greasy hair and scraggy moustache are in as much need of tidying up as the cluttered mess of room he rents at his uncle's Dublin house. (Great work by Soutra Gilmour on the unit set.)

Hinds gives him a rough and grumbling voice, but also a bit of teddy bear warmth and gentleness. Separated from his wife and children, he puts up a tough exterior while dealing with heartbreaking loneliness, which partially motivates him to allow the abused Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne) to stay with him for as long as she likes.

At the start of the play, Tommy is leading the bleeding Aimee into his room after finding her battered by a boyfriend. Aimee, not accustomed to men being kind without expecting something in return, is naturally cautious, but with nowhere else to go she accepts his offer.

Jim Norton (Photo: Helen Warner)

She's soon introduced to Doc (sweetly amusing Michael McElhatton), Tommy's slow-witted assistant who helps him earn a living doing odd jobs, and Maurice (gruff and energetic Jim Norton), who is lonely himself after losing his wife in a tragic accident.

Dunne does a lovely job of subtly showing how the always on guard Aimee finds herself returning Tommy's growing affection, but there are plenty of unspoken complications that eventually surface. One of them comes in the manner of an uncomfortably aggressive fellow named Kenneth (an unnerving Brian Gleeson). The entrance of this outside presence switches the play from a charming and witty piece about perennial losers finding each other to something more realistically chilling and violent.

While the play might afford some trimming from its intermissionless 100-minute length, the excellent company makes it well worth clinging to every moment. Sweet, funny, tense and ultimately hopeful, The Night Alive scores as another welcome Donmar import.

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From This Author Michael Dale