Friday, May 02, 2008

Unrequited Love

"Port Authority" presented by Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater, May 1, 2008

Conor McPherson's latest work hits NYC courtesy of the Atlantic Theater Company. It's a bit of a departure from his more recent efforts, not so much geographically, but in tone and focus. His most recent efforts produced on Broadway were "The Seafarer" and "Shining City," both of which featured a distinctly supernatural and dark story. Here, we get a series of monologues from three Irishmen, each in a different time of his life.

First we hear from Kevin (John Gallagher) who's just moved out of his parents' house after completing school into a house with three roommates. He easily reveals that it was not a good decision, more than it was an act that looked more like a decision than it was truly making one.

Next up is Dermot (Brian d'Arcy James), a man recently, and surprisingly, promoted into a lucrative executive position for which he feels he is totally unprepared. His once-beautiful wife has lost her looks and he feels ashamed of his less-than-average and far-from-athletic son.

Finally, we have Joe (Jim Norton), living out his final days in a retirement/nursing home. He's just gotten a package bearing sad news.

Mr. McPherson doles out each of their stories of hope and love lost in segments. Their stories tug at the heart strings, but the moments of real catharsis are few. At first I was expecting a variation of Brian Friel's "Faith Healer" - not the case. There are times when the three seem loosely connected, but never interact with each other than taking turns speaking.

Mr. Gallagher returns to the Atlantic following the phenomenal arc he rode in "Spring Awakening." His Kevin is a thoughtful, if undirected young man. Lacking ambition or focus, he ambles along living with friends Dave, Speedie and Claire. It's no surprise that he loves Claire and feels pretty sure that she feels the same, though they never make that connection official. There's a lot of talk about meaningful looks, quiet moments and intimate settings but the words are never exchanged. Mr. Gallagher shares this tale frankly and with an earnestness that never broaches self-pity or feels maudlin. He is tender and sympathetic throughout.

Mr. James also returns to the Atlantic following his turn in "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" another Atlantic production that transferred to Broadway. He's in his usual fine form (despite a few minor accent glitches) relating his speedy ride up and down the corporate ladder. His insecure Dermot enjoys his ride up to the fullest, knowing inside that it can't last. When the other shoe finally drops and he returns to his family, his wife kicks him a bit while he's down but he knows he deserves it. Again, there's no self-flagellation or self-pity on display, just a feeling of weakness without apology.

It is Mr. Norton who gives the strongest performance of the three. His story of loving a woman he hardly knew, and the pain he feels upon learning of her death 35 years later. The nuances and shifts of emotions he displays as he weaves his story among the exposition of life among dying retirees are masterful.

Takeshi Kata's bare bones set of a stone-tiled platform with a large bench leaves a wide open stage for Matthew Richards' lighting to create the mood of the assorted locations each man describes. Jenny Mannis' wardrobe has each man dressed similarly (pants, shirt, sweater and jacket) maintaining their parallels.

Director Henry Wishcamper has landed a cast of what are probably the three strongest actors in NYC today. He's done well to keep the various stories apace, also staying out of the way of these fine performers.

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