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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
By Jacob Horn
Conor McPherson's Port Authority, now being revived by the Irish Rep during their season at Union Square, presents a series of monologues from three men, each in the midst of a different sort of existential crisis. The youngest, Kevin (James Russell) frets about his housing situation; not-quite-middle-aged Dermot (Billy Carter) grapples with a professional crisis; and the older Joe (Peter Maloney) looks back on his life as he confronts mortality. Together, the stories of these three unremarkable individuals paint a picture of how our entanglements with others shape our lives.
There's a sense in which McPherson might be better described as a storyteller than a playwright. He relies heavily on the use of monologues in a number of his other plays. This style is not unlike that of a solo show, since the three characters exist independent of one another, and is something of an acquired taste.
I recently went on the record in CurtainUp Editor-in-Chief Elyse Sommer's feature on the varied responses to solos as preferring showing to telling on stage, and I couldn't help but feel like the monologues of Port Authority might make more compelling scenes if brought to life in media res, rather than recollected after the fact.
But, of course, that's not the project that McPherson chose to execute: instead of illustrating the charge of a moment as it happens, he elects to explore how it resonates with a person later on. It makes his task as a writer more difficult, but his lyrical writing is usually able to carry the added burden. This language itself is the show's primary asset, since the stories told are fairly predictable, and the occasional connections drawn between them somewhat forced or superficial.
The choice of a monologue format obviously places tremendous demands on the performers, as well. The cast assembled here, under Ciarán O'Reilly's direction, approaches the challenge admirably. In Kevin, Russell captures a blend of confidence and insecurity that feels true-to-life. Even in the face of extremely flawed behavior, Dermot remains a sympathetic character in the hands of Carter. And despite the fact that Joe's story is one of the simplest, Maloney's performance is able to pack an intensely emotional punch.
As each performer tells his story, the others sit back in passive disregard. While the play is, according to the script, set in the theater, the characters seem to exist in separate times. This leaves every actor for himself, delivering every monologue with nothing but the sounds and movements he can produce.
These movements are limited by a somewhat claustrophobic set that blocks off most of the DR2 theater's already-small stage with a large rock formation. While the addition of the extra levels is nice, it forces most of the action into a space that feels just a bit more tight than intimate.
It's funny—writing that last thought, I realize that "more tight than intimate" might describe the relationships that prove problematic for the three characters. Kevin yearns for the affection of his roommate Clare while he goes through the motions of a relationship with another woman; Dermot distances himself from his wife because he feels she might be a professional liability; and Joe's relationship with his wife is strained when he realizes that she is not the woman who he sees in his dreams.
There's nothing all too tragic or horrific about any of these stories, which will likely resonate with every audience member in one way or another. Instead of going for an extreme, McPherson captures an assortment of quotidian realities. The result is something more haunting: the realization that, if you were to remove any of these three men, any of us could readily take their place.
Reviews of other productions of Port Authority
2001 London production
2008 Atlantic Theater Company production