Theater Review | THE NIGHT ALIVE by Conor McPherson at Third Rail

In the night - a light.  Conor McPherson's THE NIGHT ALIVE at Third Rail offers genuine theatrical sustenance.
In the night – a light. Conor McPherson’s THE NIGHT ALIVE at Third Rail offers genuine theatrical sustenance.

“What’s going on?”

A simple question you would think, and one asked several times (and sung once on the soundtrack, care of Marvin Gaye) over the course of Conor McPherson’s latest play THE NIGHT ALIVE, now receiving a wonderfully tuned production at Third Rail.

But as anyone new to the grit and grime, the humor and violence of McPherson’s distinctive dramatic landscape will soon discover, figuring out what’s going on there is often as hard for the characters themselves as it is for the audience.

Where are we? Who are we? Why are we? Are things going to work out?

And what have you done with my turnips?

These are just a few of McPherson’s favorite questions to probe – and he does so here to glorious effect.

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Ireland’s evolving Conor McPherson hits Portland with Third Rail’s production of THE NIGHT ALIVE

Some playwrights are one hit wonders. Others get several good ones. But very few can keep the show going for a lifetime of stellar output. Edward Albee, anyone?

While far from a grand old man of the theatre in age, Conor McPherson is stayin’ alive. He’s still writing plays. And good ones.

McPherson is an interesting writer because he’s managed to move beyond the “raging out of control young drunk males on a tear in Dublin” narrative that is the typical entry level job for Irish male playwrights. True, he’s now often dealing with the “resigned, middle-aged drunk but more thoughtful men in Dublin” category. But McPherson is a force to be reckoned with and has a lot to say. He is far from done. For any long time McPherson watchers, his latest play is particularly interesting because it reveals a surprising and unexpected truth: Conor McPherson, the man, is happy.

In performance, McPherson’s plays become showcases for great Irish actors. So much of what he is writing about comes out in between the seams and during quiet moments as characters sit in a chair or fiddle with a lamp or consider each other. These are not action hero dramas. They are closeup portraits that rely on the fabric of strong ensemble acting.

Over the years McPherson has used the great Ciarán Hinds a few times. Hinds was the devil in McPherson’s THE SEAFARER on Broadway. And in the Donmar Warehouse’s premiere of THE NIGHT ALIVE, Hinds was Tommy.

Here’s a brief snippet of Hinds in character (worth waiting out the lifestyles of the rich and famous ad that precedes it). With a text and actor like this, there’s more grain and substance in a single minute of performance than an hour from most plays.

Catch THE NIGHT ALIVE at Third Rail starting February 20.

Ciarán Hinds does a scene from The Donmar Warehouse's production of THE NIGHT ALIVE by Conor McPherson.
“It’s all about your outlook.” Ciarán Hinds in a scene from The Donmar Warehouse’s production of THE NIGHT ALIVE by Conor McPherson.

50 words: THE NIGHT ALIVE by Conor McPherson at Atlantic Theater

In the first third, transcendent comedy and lasting small moments among grungy Dublin Northsiders. Later, violence feels inorganic, manufactured. In focus on personal portraits, play avoids engaging with any real issues in Ireland today. Yet there is near irrefutable proof here that McPherson is genuinely (dare we say it?) happy.

3-stars

Thru February 2

One of New York's best Off Broadway spaces: the Atlantic Theater on W. 20th.
One of New York’s best Off Broadway spaces: the Atlantic Theater on W. 20th.