Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Port Authority

[Reviewed for Show Business Weekly]

Conor McPherson can be a hypnotic playwright. Unfortunately, in this brooding triptych of monologues, his lyrical gift for the rhythms of the soul rarely does more than the hypnotist’s announcement: “You are getting sleepy.” Like The Good Thief, an early one-man show of his, Port Authority is a tinderbox of passivity that never sparks; it is a full description, but of empty lives and absent loves.

The youngest character, Kevin (John Gallagher, Jr.), stands up and, like a spectator of his own life, tells us of his roommates: two reckless, feckless drunks, and Claire —supposedly the love of his life — of whom he speaks dispassionately and actively follows but never actually pursues. The oldest, Joe (Jim Norton), is a similar specter, though at least more daring — between drinks at his nursing home, he thinks fondly of a neighbor whose image was so strong in his mind that he tried to steal her picture. Stuck between is Dermot (Brian D’Arcy James), who speaks in a colorful present tense about perfectly ordinary stuff — like accidentally ogling his new boss’s wife’s tits. Despite being married, he’s never found love; only desire (a desire which, unlike his narration, is tragically in the past). All three are fine performers, and, with Gallagher and Norton, their recent work (Spring Awakening and McPherson’s own The Seafarer) helps to give some perspective on how dull and empty their onstage lives are now.

McPherson is a wonderful naturalist, but sitting three generations of Irishmen on a lonely wooden bench and having them take turns speaking is far from natural. Nor is director Henry Wishcamper willing to pursue a natural approach. Although Jenny Mannis’s plain costumes and Takeshi Kata’s unadorned set clearly ground the play in reality, Wishcamper practically poses his actors between monologues, and Matthew Richards’s lighting design — which cannot go more than a minute without shifting shadows — is like an epileptic fit in super-slow motion.

Port Authority is a play about feelings — particularly longings — that cannot be explained. “I felt like that was the truth,” says Joe. What this means for McPherson’s world is that every word spoken either takes away from those feelings or only seems like the truth.

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