Theater review

Purposeful 'The Night Alive' opens Chester season

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CHESTER — Produced in London and New York in 2013, Conor McPherson's "The Night Alive," —which is wrapping up its season-opening run this weekend at Chester Theatre Company's Town Hall Theatre — has the texture of a Harold Pinter play — early Pinter — without the pauses.

Its central characters, Tommy (Justin Campbell) and Doc (James Barry) are two working-class men who seem to be junkmen/handymen, driving around in a van collecting throwaways for a living.

Tommy lives in a bed sitting room flat on the top floor of a house owned by his curmudgeonly uncle, Maurice (Nick Ullett) who occupies the rest of the house and keeps close watch on Tommy and his comings and goings. The room is a testament to the larger messiness of Tommy's life, which includes a marriage that has gone south.

As the play begins, Tommy is bringing into his flat a battered young woman named Aimee (Marielle Young), whom he has rescued from a beating at the hands of a man we learn later is her boyfriend. It is not long before she insinuates herself into Tommy's room, bed, life; throwing off the balance of his friendship with Doc.

As Doc, Aimee and Tommy settle into a new dynamic, her boyfriend, Kenneth (Joel Ripka), shows up in the middle of the night. he is a force to be reckoned with, in more ways than one. McPherson raises a faint possibility that Aimee and Kenneth's intrusion into Tommy's life may be less a matter of chance than would appear.

In setting, in tone; in the rhythms of lives and relationships that hold no apparent answers or explanation; in two sudden acts of violence and the awkwardness — humorous and consequential — of their respective aftermaths, "The Night Alive" has a palpable Pinteresque texture. But this is Conor McPherson and if you've followed his fascinating body if work, you know that somewhere in the mix of character and events, something not quite of this world will manifest; something that feels at once removed and present in a way that will lead to redemption of a sort. It is no less the case here, although it is a long time coming.

"The Night Alive" a deceptive work and an equally deceptive production. None of McPherson's characters is who they seem. There is change. People will surprise you, McPherson seems to be saying. Director Daniel Elihu Kramer and his cast respond with patience and insight. At the same time, for all the skill Kramer's actors bring to the stage, there is a disconnect here, not so much among the actors but, rather, between actors and audience. With the notable exception of Barry's endearing Doc, there is little to catch us up in the emotional issues McPherson's characters are facing.

Kramer's production moves smoothly in and through Ed Check's detailed, atmospheric setting. Young's Aimee is a carefully calibrated enigma. Ripka's Kenneth is a commanding presence in all the right and sly ways. Ullett's Maurice is an appropriately unsettling intrusive presence who uses his age as license for, at times, inappropriate behavior.

Even in a production as nuanced as this, "The Night Alive" is among McPherson's more enigmatic, less involving plays. That it holds as effectively as it does on the Town Hall Theatre stage is a testament to Kramer and this cast, especially Barry, whose Doc is such an endearing, welcome figure.

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