By Tristan Lejeune
There’s a slightly different set of expectations that comes with Irish plays. You want drinking and dancing, ta beh share, and bonus points for singing as well. There should be a tantrum or two, not to be confused with the soul-summoning monologues of existential crisis that are probably what put your butt in the seat in the first place.
More than anything, though, theatre created by and/or portraying the Irish feels obligated to walk a line between melodramatic catharsis and level-headed, staid sticktoitiveness. Whether you’re watching Yeats or Beckett, you might get the impression that residents of the Emerald Isle face with a stiff upper lip tragedy, death and loss — and then fall to pieces when the roses don’t come in this spring.
On all these counts, The Night Alive, at Round House through November 13, fails to disappoint. There’s mild-to-moderate drinking and dancing. Plenty of tantrums. And there’s a wonderful come-what-may milieu, familiar to fans of Olivier-winning playwright Conor McPherson’s other work, that takes in stride that disaster will come, but will ya have a cup’a while yer here?
Edward Gero holds the stage without trying to “command” it as Tommy, a middle-aged Dublin loser living in his uncle Maurice’s spare room and shaving over a janitor’s sink in between angry phone calls with his estranged wife. Late one night Tommy brings home Aimee (Katie deBuys, going for damaged but not overly neurotic), who’s just been bloodied by a man she’ll only call her boyfriend, though Tommy and everyone in the house is thinking “pimp.”
Aimee ends up staying the night and then some as these two working-class misfits prop each other up while dredging up lots of ghosts. For a one-act, The Night Alive comes with a lot of past to reconcile. Maurice (a haunting Michael Tolaydo) is still mourning his wife’s death and trying to figure out how much fathering he has it in himself to give Tommy, who has his own sometime dependent in Gregory Linington’s Doc, a slightly simple factotum who sleeps in Tommy’s handyman van when he has nowhere else.
Linington is a warm actor, and he finds a good center in Doc, though I would wish the script didn’t turn the character so pointedly into its own heart. Tolaydo’s role has realer shades, and he colors them in with skill, no less so when cane-pounding is required, or when a memory appears to be alllllmost visible, out beyond the floor-lights. And Joseph Carlson tears into the menace of his late-arriving character — the pepper in this potato stew — a bit of Aimee’s history come back for more.
DeBuys and Gero have fine chemistry, too, in their codependent search for redemption (I think it’s just under the instant coffee). It’s the kind of cast where you read the program bios and think, “Ooh, they’d be really good in that…” Can’t believe I missed Gero’s Salieri.
I’m a big fan of Meghan Raham’s Look Back in Squalor set and Colin K. Bill’s lamps-and-leaves lighting design. Most productions want you to know what time of day it is; these guys want you to smell the cheap French fries. Less so Eric Shimelonis’s between-scenes score, which feels like it’s throwing the mood under a microscope.
“You can’t save everyone, can ya?” Tommy asks toward the end of this Irish ballad. But of course SOMEtimes you can. The trick is to know when you have a chance, and then not hesitate. Night Alive seizes its moments.