Conor McPherson’s Port Authority

Review by Gwen Orel

So, the love of your life is married to your neighbor-but you both had good, if separate, lives. So, the job that was too good to be true, really was, in fact? Well, your wife still loves you. So, you're drifting into a long-term relationship with a girl you only like, and drifting away from the girl who has your heart?

Well-that's OK.

What's so peculiarly Irish about Conor McPherson's "Port Authority," which opened at Atlantic Theatre Company in its American debut this May (running through June 22nd), is the bittersweet resignation that accompanies the dreams deferred and the loves that got away from the three men in center stage. It's not happy, but neither is it tragic. When American playwrights write about what should have been, it's usually a four-hankie weeper. Here, there are laughs, and rueful grins.

McPherson suggests that self-realization isn't everything. It's one possibility, but not the only one. There are consolations of family, friends, religion and the small things in life. It's not the American dream-it's not even a dream. Most of us recognize the conciliations and compromises all too well from our waking hours.

And that's the story of McPherson's sweet, lyrical play. Why it's called "Port Authority" is unclear-the three characters talking to us from a bench aren't in the same place at the same time, and don't know each other. It's a waystation in life, perhaps, but it doesn't really matter, since the frame allows us to listen to the three men, one young, one middle-aged, and one old, in the telling of their stories, reveal their deepest hearts.

Director Henry Wishcamper at times randomly moves the actors around to stand upstage of the bench, or on the edge of the stage. He gets such good performances from his cast that you forgive him the panic that comes from, well, lack of action and interaction. For many people, a play in which three characters talk is a yawner, no matter how beautiful the stories, nor how compelling, nor how profound. But for those who loved plays like Brian Friel's "Faith Healer," "Port Authority" will feel full of action.

John Gallagher, Jr. plays Kevin, a young man who's moved into a house with some friends-one of whom is the girl he really loves. There's something between them, but it's interrupted by her relationship with a guy in a band, and by his beginning relationship with a sweet bartender, and by a wild party at the house. Gallagher appeals with his helpless innocence, just as he does in Spring Awakening, Pity he exaggerates his accent as it detracts from what would be a wholly affecting performance.

Brian D'Arcy James plays Dermot, a middle-aged man who's unexpectedly launched into a high-flying career as an executive middle-manager. That's literally high-flying, as his new colleagues take him to Los Angeles to go backstage at a concert of the Bangers-that's the bar band that Kevin was telling us about, now grown to fame and international popularity. By this detail, we know that the story must take place some years in the future. James blusters and boasts so humbly that we hope against hope his new job will work out, knowing all the while that it couldn't possibly. He's drinking away his failures and inadequacies before our eyes, yet we can't blame him.

And Joe, played by Jim Norton, who recently shined as the blind, alcoholic and somewhat saintly brother in The Seafarer, lives in an old-age home and finds himself a little undone by a package that arrives in the mail. Norton's voice chokes up on the words "it was a small photo that I recognized"-and though we have no idea where the story will take us, we're immediately and permanently on his side. His deep voice and pointed gestures hold terrific power. Eventually, we will learn that it is a photograph of his next-door neighbor as a girl. She once caught him adoring it, and offered to give it to him. Naturally, being Irish and married, he refused. Naturally, the unspoken bond eclipsed much that was real in his own life before and since. "And of course, you fool yourself that G-d hasn't seen you," he says, about falling in love.

The monologues are intercut and interleaved, so that they comment on each other. This also allows for some suspense. One of the beauties of having these stories unfixed in time and space is the endless possibilities for their outcome.

The brilliance of McPherson's play lies in the way it demonstrates man's tragedy-the unexpressed emotion they repress. The women the men talk about, the wives and girlfriends, earn their chance at happiness with their courage and direct talk. It isn't their fault they do not hear their men's quiet longing.

Author: Gwen Orel

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