The Night Alive

Vibrations from Another Time

Tommy (Ciarán Hinds) is a lonesome Dubliner, an odd jobs man whose only companions are his buddy Doc (Michael McElhatton) and his landlord and uncle Maurice (Jim Norton).  His room is strewn with large black garbage bags and the trash that should be in them; his kitchen is packed with dirty dishes and a modest selection of beans, biscuits, coffee, and tea.  One night, while out for some fries, he intervenes in a domestic dispute and brings home the victim, Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne).  Aimee is a small-time shoplifter and prostitute—forty Euros for a handjob.  “That’s all I ever do,” she tells Tommy.  He insists it it’s all right, the handy was “A-one” and a “Bull’s-eye.”  After all, “the full job and all that huffing and puffing, it’s so unbecoming.”

The Night Alive, which is mostly a story about a single father in his fifties trying to make a connection with a delinquent in her twenties, is occasionally tinged by something that resembles Biblical allegory.  Aimee’s “boyfriend” Kenneth (Brian Gleeson) has a devilish menace (he knocks Doc’s head in with a hammer as casually as a sane person would a nail) and the constant thumping for quiet from Maurice upstairs evokes some kind of godly presence.  None of these characters, however, have the direct one-to-one relationship of a more standard allegory, which I suspect was director and playwright Conor McPherson’s intention.  The most explicit he gets is when Doc relates a dream late in the play, in one of those theatrical, vaguely explanatory, and heavily metaphorical monologues you wish contemporary playwrights would abandon altogether.  In the dream, one of the wise men explains black holes to Doc, then tells him that “when you die, you won’t even know you’re dead!  It’ll just feel like everything has suddenly…come right, in your life.”

Mr. Hinds is a fine actor, and The Night Alive‘s best moments come from his bearish gentlemanliness.  For example, when Aimee first walks into his apartment, he catches her eying a stack of paperbacks and immediately blurts, “Do you like cowboy books? You can have all of them.”  Mr. McElhatton is also good, but his character is too faintly drawn—Doc, clearly based on mythical wise fools, transitions too roughy between what Tommy calls “disabled” and the fluid, poetic orations from his dream journal.

Mr. McPherson claims, “The second part of the story was going to be this whole other play—one of those plays set in Heaven, or Purgatory, really. And the people from the first play were going to be in this other play. Except they’d be playing different characters. And, at a certain point, God was going to come and explain everything.”  He calls this a “strange and horrible impulse,” but I would have rather seen that play, some kind of variation on Shaw’s Man and Superman.  As it is, The Night Alive is an unremarkable work with a couple of good performances, clean writing, but nothing weird or interesting enough to recommend it.

The Night Alive runs through February 2nd at the Linda Gross Theater.  336 W. 20th Street  New York, NY.  1 hour 50 minutes.  No intermission.

4 thoughts on “Vibrations from Another Time

  1. Interesting review. I liked this play a lot more than you. Did you catch the allusion to O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” when Tommy and Aimee each give each other gifts that don’t get used (coat and shoes)? The epigraph from the play is a quote from the Gospel of MT about the Magi, and there is a strong Nativity theme underlying the play. We can agree on the fine performances of Hinds and McElhatton, though I thought the entire cast was excellent, especially Norton and Gleeson. Dunne was not given enough to do. BTW… Tommy is not divorced from his wife.

    1. Ah, no I didn’t! Thanks for pointing it out.

      Are you sure they aren’t divorced? It’s strongly suggested, and I can’t find any evidence in the text to confirm they are only separated.

      1. It’s when Maurice meets Aimee and he reminds her that Tommy is married. She says something like, “well he said they’ve been apart for two years so I don’t know how married they are.” And Maurice says, “Married is married.”
        In the NYC version there is a new bit where Tommy’s in bed with Aimee when she has her nightmare, and he wakes up too, saying “Suzanne, Suzanne!” He thinks he’s in bed with his wife. “Suzanne, Suzanne” is not in the published version and I don’t think it was in the London version either…

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