McPherson’s “Port Authority” Tunnels into the Irish Psyche

SHARE McPherson’s “Port Authority” Tunnels into the Irish Psyche
SHARE McPherson’s “Port Authority” Tunnels into the Irish Psyche

‘PORT AUTHORITY’

RECOMMENDED

When: Through Feb. 16, 2014

Where: Writers’ Theatre at Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe

Tickets: $35-$65

Info: (847) 242-6000; www.writerstheatre.org

Run time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission

Oh those Irishmen. They sure can talk. They sure can write. And when it comes to matters of regret and failure, repression and self-sabotage, class tension and alienation, they really are hard to beat, whether fueled by alcohol, or tea or words alone.

In “Port Authority” (the title has nothing to do with the seedy New York bus terminal), Conor McPherson plays on all these themes by way of a series of interwoven monologues for three Irishmen of different generations who are connected only by way of their tattered dreams. An exercise in pure storytelling (were each monologue performed straight through it could easily be a short story), the drama also is a formidable challenge for actors whose narration of events, and of their characters’ varying states of mind, depends on their ability to work the language and conjure action through talk alone.

For his Writers Theatre production of this 2001 play by the author of “The Seafarer” (set for a Seanachai Theatre production at The Den beginning Nov. 29), and “The Shining City” (seen some years ago at the Goodman Theatre), director William Brown has gathered a trio of exceptional performers who easily command the intimate confines of the company’s bookstore space in Glencoe, where a bare, narrow “stage” holds nothing but a stool and a couple of chairs.

Kevin (played by the tall, charming, ginger-haired and almost too handsome Rob Fenton), is the youngest of the three. Though unemployed, he has triumphantly moved out of his parents’ house and into an apartment shared with three others — one of whom, a girl named Claire, he adores, but lacks the confidence to transform from close friend to lover. Instead, he has a fling with an aggressive bar girl, while Claire dates a more confident and polished guy. They all gather at a local pub when The Bangers, a punk band, makes a hash of things, and at a house party that runs amok. The missed connection between the two is ruefully understood by both of them, but that is all.

The man in early middle age is Dermot (John Hoogenakker, a superb actor who can make tension palpable in the muscles of his face alone). Dermot has all the signs of a working class guy who has just been hired for a big job in finance and feels like a fish out of water when socializing with high-roller corporate types. Ashamed of himself (and of his wife, who he leaves at home when attending a fancy dinner and flying off for a weekend in the U.S.), he self-destructs, with alcohol and more, even before his final humiliation.

And then there is Joe (Patrick Clear, a master of the acting game), a widowed pensioner who is living in a seniors’ home when he receives a small packet containing a photograph from the wife of a neighbor he once became infatuated with, but was terrified to pursue. Joe is the product of a different era — a strongly conservative time in Irish society. And while you feel the repression he lived with, you look at both Kevin and Dermot and wonder whether the dramatic changes in Ireland during the last half century or so have really brought any greater happiness.

“Port Authority” requires intense listening, and about 10 or 15 minutes less of the play would only strengthen it. But these actors hold you at rapt attention. And McPherson sure can tunnel into the heart and soul of a man.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic


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