The Night Alive

Hyde Park Theatre captures five lonely Dubliners in all their broken humanity in Conor McPherson's drama

Time waits for no man. Or woman. Its violent riptides swirl chaotically through the peaks and valleys of Conor McPherson's The Night Alive. We begin with a curious gentleness as a man gingerly pokes around a shabby, cluttered flat – and end with the trademark powerful stillness of Hyde Park Theatre.

This regional premiere is the company's fourth outing in as many years with McPherson's work, and the familiarity shows. Artistic Director Ken Webster, who acts in and directs the piece, has a habit of finding scripts full of humanity – dark and ugly as it often is – and exploring with precision every nook and cranny of the characters' psyches. As with other playwrights in his recent arsenal – Baker, Eno, McDonagh, Hunter – Webster knows exactly how to forge from McPherson's masterful words a razor-sharp production. The Night Alive is about loneliness, comfort in isolation – broken characters accepting their station, doing what they can to navigate their way to stasis.

As Tommy, Webster delivers a solemn catharsis, handling the shattered denizens of McPherson's script as a reluctant father figure – an interesting contrast to Tommy's seeming apathy toward his estranged wife and daughter. Jessica Hughes nimbly embodies Aimee, an almost-prostitute (only "hand stuff") with a sense of secrecy, observation, and ambition. Hers is a character of subtlety, both existing in the moment and using it to her advantage, and Hughes executes those traits with a laserlike focus. Robert Fisher's Doc is a wide-eyed innocent, a borderline personality on the spectrum between Lennie and Forrest Gump, performed with the specific, honest choices of a seasoned actor. Joey Hood brings a smoky intensity to Kenneth, shifting wildly between glaring silence and Joker-esque psychosis. Tom Green's Maurice is a perfect combination of physicality and vocal discipline, embracing the agony bubbling below the character's surface, seeping out in perfect increments with each appearance. At one point, it is difficult not to imagine the pain of one's own grandparent after his spouse has passed. Green handles the moment expertly.

Time, again, seems to play a supporting role. Doc's condition leaves him "five to 10 seconds behind everybody else," and yet he has a theory that one day we'll recognize "time waves" as we do sound waves. In a moment sure to blow the minds of philosophy enthusiasts, Doc ponders the question of the existence of God as related to the absence of time. The use of Euros and cell phones signifies our general "present" time frame, but the staging suggests a place not so much lost, but stuck, at least a decade or two behind. Cheryl Painter's costumes place us somewhere in the post-9/11 world of the early Nineties, if that makes sense. Mark Pickell's drab, dreary set, with every window to the outside world somehow obscured, Don Day's stark lighting, and Fisher's regional-specific sound design combine impeccably, conjuring the bleak, overcast exterior of Dublin into which the characters often venture. Even Travis Dean's fight choreography is subtle enough not to recognize as such, which provides a necessary element of unexpected ferocity.

In the midst of the sublime dreariness, a moment of sheer beauty anchors the story. Tommy, Aimee, and Doc are able to free themselves from the clutches of the moment, sharing in song and dance as Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" blasts from the radio. This moment of escape shows the audience there is always hope – a light in the darkness – and will likely remind them to hug someone they love after the well-earned curtain call.

The Night Alive

Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through Aug. 8
Running time: 1 hr., 40 min.

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Hyde Park Theatre, Irish drama, Ken Webster, Conor McPherson, Robert Fisher, Tom Green, Joey Hood, Jessica Hughes, Cheryl Painter, Mark Pickell, Don Day, Travis Dean

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