Director Joel Sass and the Jungle Theater have found a muse in Irish playwright Conor McPherson. Three times in recent years, Sass has led a production of a McPherson play at the Minneapolis theater. And three times, they have been the most compelling shows of the season.
The latest example is The Night Alive, where a quintet of talented actors give gorgeous performances of McPherson's thoughtful and deep script. The show is about love, failure, and holding on in the lower depths of Dublin. While it leaves much unsaid, it still provides crystal clear journeys of these intriguing characters.
The story centers on Tommy, a middle-aged man who has become estranged from his wife and children. He is holed up in the sitting room of his uncle Maurice's house. There, Tommy leads something of a hardscrabble existence, as he works odd jobs with his friend, Doc, to make ends meet. There doesn't seem to be much direction to Tommy's life, apart from existing from day to day.
That changes one night when Tommy rescues a stranger, Aimee, from an attacker. She is clearly damaged goods. Beyond the physical black eye and blood, she is skittish and scared by just about everything. It turns out she has good reason. Her attacker (it's never quite clear if he is a boyfriend or a pimp or something even darker) has a mean streak that soon comes to visit the home.
Despite that description, The Night Alive isn't a thriller. Sure, that character, Kenneth, certainly offers menace whenever he is onstage, but the core here is the halting relationship that develops between Tommy and Aimee. They are like Bruce Springsteen characters with Irish accents: lost and lonely, but who find some kind of peace and love when together.
Like the previous two McPherson shows, Shining City and The Seafarer, there are elements of the supernatural hiding in the corners and between the words of the script. McPherson leaves a lot to our imaginations.
The characters don't take time to explain their relationships or motivations. Instead, it comes out in fits and starts throughout the show. We learn how Doc got his nickname, but not what connects him so strongly to Tommy. In the end, that detail doesn't matter.
The Night Alive offers tremendous opportunities for the company, who take them and run. Stephen Yoakam, through a wig, makeup, and performance, takes decades off his age. Beyond that, he offers a person who may be lost, but faces his troubles with a sense of humor and a big heart. He's matched well by Patrick Bailey as Doc and Sara Richardson as Aimee, who play the odd angles of the characters without turning them into caricatures. They get able support from Martin Rueben as the angry Maurice and Tyson Forbes as the tall, imposing and frightening Kenneth.
Sass' skill with actors is on full display here, as is his keen eye for set design and his always tight pacing. All of these elements combine into a memorable and beautiful theatrical gift from the Jungle Theater.
IF YOU GO
The Night Alive
Through December 20, 2015
The Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-822-7063 or visit online.