Yet another reason for me to head back into the City soon. From today's NYT:
Three Dubliners’ Plain Poetry of Everyday Loss
By BEN BRANTLEY
Words are sharp, shiny hooks in the monologues of the Irish playwright Conor McPherson. They attract and snag the attention, snaring it at least until the language stops, and usually well after that. Give those words to actors who know how to cast a line, and you’ll find an audience helplessly captive.
Three such actors have been assembled for “Port Authority,” Mr. McPherson’s haunting fugue on passive lives and loves that might have been. (The show opened on Wednesday night at the Linda Gross Theater in Chelsea.)
Playing Dubliners of three generations, Brian d’Arcy James (late of “Next to Normal”), John Gallagher Jr. (a Tony Award winner last year for “Spring Awakening”) and Jim Norton (a McPherson stalwart, nominated for a Tony this year for his work in “The Seafarer”) are asked simply to stand up and talk without benefit of flashy jokes, someone else to play off or much in the way of a dramatic story.
Yet 5 or 10 minutes into this Atlantic Theater Company production directed by Henry Wishcamper, I found myself holding on to what these actors had to say as if I were a 5-year-old at bedtime being introduced to “The Arabian Nights.” It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t wait to hear what happened next to the men portrayed onstage. The endings of their narratives are fairly evident in their beginnings. What kept me eager and alert was knowing that another simple, surprising phrase was always around the corner. And with that phrase, one or another of the actors would quietly open a door onto a sad, resonantly quiet darkness that laps away, unacknowledged but omnipotent, at a perfectly ordinary life. As Mr. Norton’s character says with a pleading urgency, “I was always like everybody else.”
Broadway audiences of the last decade know Mr. McPherson for “The Weir” (1999), “Shining City” (2006) and “The Seafarer,” which recently had a limited run on Broadway and has been nominated for a Tony for best play. These are all dramas in the expected sense in that people talk and react to one another on the stage.
But it was as a creator of gruffly lyrical monologues that Mr. McPherson, who is still in his 30s, came to attention in the mid-1990s with works like “The Good Thief” (1994), “This Lime Tree Bower” (1995) and “St. Nicholas” (1997). These are pieces with the enveloping, brutal sentimentality of Irish short-story masters like William Trevor and Edna O’Brien. But they are written in a punchy, cadenced style — meant to be pitted with silences — that blossoms fully only when spoken aloud.
I hadn’t realized how much I missed hearing Mr. McPherson’s monologues until I saw “Port Authority,” which was first staged in London in 2001. All of the show’s tales, delivered in rotating chapters, are love stories of a sort, told by people of scant initiative to “whom things happened,” as one of them puts it.
They belong to the three ages of man. The young Kevin (Mr. Gallagher) is living outside his parents’ home for the first time, sharing a rundown house with two alcohol-pickled men and a wry woman. Dermot (Mr. James) is a middle-aged ne’er-do-well who finds himself inexplicably bound for Los Angeles in a glamorous job as a money manager. Joe (Mr. Norton) lives in an old-folks’ home, where meals are the big events.
They are, as each well knows, people you would normally look right through. They make their entrances with appropriate inconspicuousness, materializing on Takeshi Kata’s anonymous waiting room of a set before you are fully aware of them. All three remain onstage for the show’s 90 minutes, though for the most part they don’t appear conscious of one another.
Their stories begin flatly, tinged with the sheepishness of those who don’t think themselves worth listening to. The smile of Mr. Gallagher’s Kevin, the first to speak, is furtive and apologetic. Mr. James’s Dermot appears eternally crippled by disgusted embarrassment. Only Mr. Norton’s Joe has a touch of the showoff and that, you feel, is a privilege of old age adopted only recently.
Yet each is endowed with a godly eye for detail, which makes the mundane assume a cosmic glow. Joe, describing a woman who once lived next door, speaks of “the strange way she twisted her jaw when she became full of good-humored bad thoughts about people she was criticizing.”
Kevin sees a vision of a possible future in the bare ankles of the housemate he goes grocery shopping with, “like she’d never need to wear socks if she was with me or something.” Dermot, on the phone in a swank Los Angeles hotel to his wife in Ireland, hears the sounds of a backyard family party and thinks, “There was an echo which struck me as something to do with the summer and I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Remorse is what Dermot feels in the carpet under his feet then, or at least he thinks so. A tentativeness infuses these monologues, as if these men are unwilling to trust the self-defining perceptions that creep up on them. Instead, they unthinkingly accept regret as the human condition, on a par with original sin.
“Port Authority” is weakest in its teasing references that link the characters’ stories, evidently meant to satisfy a hunger for conventional dramatic patterns. But as in Mr. McPherson’s best work, this play is steeped in a deeper symmetry, rooted in the ineffable within the everyday.
This mystical presence is signaled by Matthew Richards’s artful lighting, which follows the actors’ expertly guided tours into shadowy corridors of introspection and revelation. None of their characters lingers there for too long. Nor should they; the pain would be too great. But Mr. McPherson and this fine cast make sure that we know that such shadows will always gnaw at the edges of these three lives.
By Conor McPherson; directed by Henry Wishcamper; sets by Takeshi Kata; costumes by Jenny Mannis; lighting by Matthew Richards; sound by Bart Fasbender; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; production stage manager, Mary Kathryn Flynt; production manager, Michael Wade; general manager, Jamie Tyrol; associate artistic director, Christian Parker. Presented by the Atlantic Theater Company, Neil Pepe, artistic director; Andrew D. Hamingson, managing director. At the Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, Chelsea; (212) 279-4200. Through June 22. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
WITH: Jim Norton (Joe), Brian d’Arcy James (Dermot) and John Gallagher Jr. (Kevin).