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Port Authority

The intertwined monologues of Conor McPherson's drama provide a showcase for three fine Austin actors

Reviewed by Stacy Alexander Smith, Fri., July 18, 2014

Just a wee one for the road: (l-r) Nate Jackson, Ken Webster, and Tom Green in <i>Port Authority</i>
Just a wee one for the road: (l-r) Nate Jackson, Ken Webster, and Tom Green in Port Authority
Photo courtesy of Cecily Johnson

Port Authority

Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-PLAY
www.hydeparktheatre.org
Through Aug. 9
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

Stout. Vodka. Lager. Champagne. G&Ts. On hearing the 16th (or so) reference to an alcoholic beverage, I finally get the clever title of Conor McPherson's Port Authority and realize none of its Irish characters are headed for the NYC bus terminal. As for the likelihood that this story will challenge stereotypes about the self-medicating tendencies of the Irish, well ... ain't gonna happen.

However, perhaps I oversimplify in attempting to medicalize human experience. John Waters said, "Drinking in Ireland is not simply a convivial pastime, it is a ritualistic alternative to real life, a spiritual placebo, a fumble for eternity, a longing for heaven, a thirst for return to the embrace of the Almighty." This quote effectively captures the play's spirit, as its three characters – representing three generations of Irish men – explore their heartaches and amusements in a series of scaffolded monologues.

Josh Singleton and Leroy Sakowitz's set is as simple as they come: a single church pew flanked by a trifold brick wall. In this seeming reconciliation of opposites, the sacred meets the profane. The vagabond alcoholic's back alley domain is elevated beyond what would be possible by pairing this nondescript exterior wall with the simple utility of a park bench.

This play demands a lot from its audience, namely patience. Some observers will undoubtedly grow weary waiting for these characters to interact – it never happens. Yet the payoff is great for those stalwart theatregoers who are open to experiences that lack conventional dramatic structure. Indeed, any description of Port Authority as character-driven is an understatement. Simply put, this work is a showcase for the talents of three fine actors.

In Hyde Park Theatre's production, director Ken Webster's touch is obvious in the impeccable comic timing of his protégé, Nate Jackson (Kevin). Not since Ewan McGregor's Renton has a twentysomething rapscallion made England's neighbors to the north and west seem so damned appealing. Tom Green plays Joe, the ruddy-cheeked elder gentleman who's all smiles until reminiscing about his past brings him to tears. Most telling is the way Joe cradles his cane, his arms curled in close to his body – quite the opposite of young Kevin, whose arms are open and shoulders back, ready to take on the world. Between them agewise but anchoring stage right, Webster himself tackles the complex, middle-aged Dermot, a weather-beaten sub-prime executive whose rage bubbles just beneath a calm exterior.

All three performances are delightful to watch, but the material itself is limiting. The omnipresence of alcohol may well be proof that these men long for the "embrace of the Almighty," but ultimately (and sadly) they come up empty-handed. We find ourselves on a ride to a destination unknown, and when the journey ends, we discover we're right back where we started.

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