400 years ago, Shakespeare advised that “one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” With a palpable Shakespearean gloom, the prolific Irish playwright Conor McPherson finds plenty to explore among just three of those generations in this absorbing and melancholy revival of his 2001 play, Port Authority. It’s the season’s first offering from the fine Irish Repertory Theatre, this year working out of the DR2 Theater in Union Square, as their home stage on W. 22nd Street undergoes a major renovation.
On a stark set consisting of just a stone wall and three benches, a young slacker, a middle-aged loser and an old man with a life-long regret take turns telling their tales directly to the audience. McPherson is among the best writers of monologues to be found in contemporary theater, and here he splits each highly detailed soliloquy into easy to digest sections; one character going on for a bit, then pausing to let the next take his turn. It’s a device that effectively enhances the obvious differences and the sad similarities among the three men.
The juxtaposition between the young Kevin (James Russell) and the elderly Joe (Peter Maloney) is expressed both in terms of their sense of home and their paths to regret. Kevin explains how he moves into an apartment with some pals, including a girl, Clare, whom he adores. But, being at a point in life where he sees himself as “already useless,” their relationship never finds its way out of the friend zone. Conversely, Joe lives in a retirement home. He is a widower, but more in grief over the loss of Marion, a woman he obsessed over all his life, from afar. Kevin laments failing at what should have been a sure thing, given their closeness: “That two people couldn’t have found each other that easily. We didn’t trust it I suppose.” Joe, on the other hand, cannot escape the memories of the few blown chances he had to make his feelings known to Marion, his Christian guilt being his downfall: “All your dead relatives and teachers from your youth and all the things that are basically yourself are all there, aghast.”
The 30-something-year-old Dermot (Billy Carter) is another story. Quite the drunk, and married to a woman with whom he has long since lost interest, his life is the reverse of Kevin’s and Joe’s. The presence of “somebody else” is a recurring theme in this work and while Kevin and Joe both suffer the regret of failing to properly act in order to get the somebody else they desired, Dermot never even had a chance to alter his tragic life. Not only was his job meant for somebody else, he was the somebody else that his wife settled for, out of pity: “You were alone in the world and I knew you probably would be for the rest of your life.”
McPherson provides a banquet of words and the actors, under the sharp direction of Ciarán O’Reilly, do make a feast of it. Not only is the play a study of three generations of lost men, it is a showcase for performers of different ages, each parading the skill-sets they have acquired so far in their careers. Russell keeps his Kevin just unlikable enough to make his girl problems understandable. Carter plays Dermot as loud and volatile until the moment he relates his wife’s pity for him. Finally softening his voice, his true loneliness is revealed. And Maloney is simply devastating as he brings decades of craft to bear on such a sympathetic character. At times, making fierce eye contact with the audience, and at others, lost in an epic sadness, he offers up a master class on aged despair.
Port Authority – by Conor McPherson; Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
WITH: James Russell (Kevin), Billy Carter (Dermot) and Peter Maloney (Joe).
Scenic design by Charlie Corcoran; Costume design by Linda Fisher; Lighting by Michael Gottlieb; Sound by M. Florian Staab; Stage Manager, Pamela Brusoski; at the DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street, 212-727-2737, Through November 16th,http://www.irishrep.org/portauthority.html, Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes