What if life is just going round and round in a place where there is no time? A dense notion applied to the logic of living when it comes to Conor McPherson’s new work The Night Alive now debuting at Quotidian Theatre Company. Directed by Jack Sbarbori, this darkened Irish drama is a cross-sectional of the struggle of life for everyday ordinary people explored through curious circumstances that unfold in the wee hours of the night.
Wearing multiple hats for the production, Director Jack Sbarbori covers every element of production design with the exception of the soundscape, crafted by Sound Designer Ed Moser. Sbarbori’s set is intricately detailed; the full encasement of a cluttered and thoroughly lived-in space greets the eyes the moment patrons enter the theatre. Sbarbori’s attention to detail when it comes to the little things— like foreign food products— is a sharp mark of precision by way of authenticity. The slight downfall to the set’s aesthetic is the manifestation of the fourth wall illustrated by an orderly line across the stage boundary of various bits and bobs of clutter. This level of organization is perfectly out of line with the rest of the chaotic disarray featured in Tommy’s flat and creates an unnecessary delineation between where the characters’ spatial reality ends and the audience’s proximity begins.
Ed Moser’s serene soundscape covers the scenic transitions sublimely. Though it is unclear what purpose the mysterious quivering light, not dissimilar to moving ripples on a pond, projected onto the attic space— also filled with various and sundry properties designed by Sbarbori— is meant to represent, it too adds a sense of tranquility to the music that highlights the ease of these transitions. Sbarbori’s focus for the costumes is well placed, letting the sartorial selection speak as an extension to each of the characters’ unusual personality quirks. On the whole as the show’s director, Sbarbori handles the pacing of the play well, moving it along despite its initial slow start.
Playwright Conor McPherson takes his time intriguing the audience with the tightly wound plot, almost to the point of disinterest by twenty minutes into the performance. Despite this unusually languid start, the plot twist that arises just before the play’s conclusion is well worth the wait. McPherson captures the essence of daily life struggles in the way he constructs the story and develops a convivial sense of character, particularly when it comes to Maurice and Tommy and the relationship that they share. While the play does take some time to build up momentum, once it gets going, the ride is a solid one straight through to the end.
Grant Cloyd, who appears briefly as Kenneth, can be praised for his character work, though specifics are best left to the imagination for fear of spoiling the intricacies of McPherson’s plot. Cloyd, much like the other four performers in the production, suffers from slight inconsistencies in his Irish accent. This is a continual issue throughout the performance for all of the actors, just enough to cause minor distractions in moments when the show’s action reaches lulls in the arching mobility of the plot. Aimee (Chelsea Mayo) is similarly praiseworthy, though her grasp of her accent is slightly more consistent.
David Dubov, as Doc, delivers a commendable commitment to the intellectual depth of his character. There is a delay, as McPherson mentions in the text, in the character’s ability to process new information and Dubov works the execution of this mentality with flawless aplomb. His slightly affected patois and overall mannerisms perfectly match the way McPherson describes his quasi-mental condition and his interactions, particularly the scene shared with Cloyd’s character, are much more intense and gripping because of it.
While Tommy (Matthew Vaky) is the story’s protagonist, his overall character journey is facilitated by Maurice (Joe Palka.) Having the most consistent of accents, Palka portrays a convivial old curmudgeon, ripe with frustration when it comes to a myriad of situations surrounding Vaky’s character. The pair play exceptionally well together and drive hard the tension that pulls the play along through some of the emotional bogs in which is finds itself miring. Vaky is the emotional harbinger of the production, carrying the torch of pathos in his own detached yet deeply invested manner. The character of Tommy appears to exist only on the surface, but when emotional entanglements avail themselves, Vaky delivers them with deep sincerity. The last moment of the penultimate scene as well as the final moment of the performance are haunting as delivered by Vaky because of his ability to display the workings of his internal monologue through a single glance.
Ultimately worth seeing given the way the penultimate scene plays into the show’s final moments and the deeply rooted surprise that lives there, McPherson’s show under Sbarbori’s direction receives a firm justice at Quotidian Theatre Company.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission
The Night Alive plays through November 20, 2016 at Quotidian Theatre Company, the Resident Theater of The Writer’s Center— 4508 Walsh Street in Bethesda, MD. For tickets call the box office at (800) 838-3006 ext. 1 or purchase them online.