REVIEW The Night Alive, written and directed by Conor McPherson, The Donmar Warehouse Production at the AtlanticTheater
... author ex machina ...
Never mind the hype -- this is not a good play. The characters and their problems are interesting, but their dire situations are resolved too easily.
The setting is the junked up Dublin apartment of Tommy, and like the apartment that has the requisite parts -- a sink, a bathroom, beds, chairs, the characters are recognizable but junked up, unable to engage fully with the regular world. Tommy, whose ex-wife hammers at him for abandoning his kids, ekes out a living from odd jobs, employing Doc, a little guy who (we’re told) is slow witted and is wearing out his welcome at his sister's place. Going out for a snack one night, Tommy comes home with a beaten and bleeding girl, Aimee, whose tight low jeans and sparse speech convey bottom of the social barrel.
Tommy’s Uncle Maurice, who owns the house where Tommy rents, is neat and well dressed: a property owner and a “normal person” one thinks briefly, but he turns out to be an alcoholic.
Tommy calls Doc "disabled" and these characters are all one way or another disabled, and yet in their various ways they're all kind, like Tommy who takes the battered, threatened girl into his home.
But there's nothing kind about Kenneth, Aimee’s pimp. Evil incarnate -- the Devil: as he clamps in vampire teeth, his face becomes a Devil's mask. He wreaks brutal havoc, creating through his own acts and catalyzing others to commit what looks like irrevocable damage.
Only the murderous results of Kenneth’s brutality are, as if by magic, repaired. Through a series of unexplained and implausible leaps -- largely off-stage -- things turn out OK -- even better than OK. As the play moves along, there's more and more imagery of shining and light.
The characters' problems are solved, partly through the actions of an angelic Uncle Maurice. Tommy works out with others the healthy relatedness that had been lacking in his life. Doc gets a secure place to live. So eventually does Aimee. And the bad man gets his just deserts. Yeay! Never mind that to reach these good results we have to accept some disturbingly unpunished crime. In such a redemptive glow, it's square to even think about the law.
Things happen not through consistent characters or effective plotting but because it's how the author wants them. Tommy tells us that Doc “will always, always, be five to ten minutes behind everybody else,” but seen in action, Doc outfoxes Tommy to get the money he's owed, and elsewhere shows the wherewithal to get what he needs and wants.
What particularly annoys me about this play is that problems are resolved by a stroke of the author's hand rather than through struggles on the part of the characters that we witness or understand. Doc rambles in his idiot savant way about black holes and non-time but down-to-earth Tommy ignores him in favor of all that shining and light imagery.
The author doesn’t allow arbitrary turns of events and downright implausibility to get in the way of redemption. In my book, that’s a writerly sin.
The Night Alive plays at the Atlantic Theater in Manhattan's Chelsea district through February 2, 2014. For information and tickets, go to http://www.AtlanticTheater.org
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