by Colin Fleming-Stumpf
Published March 6, 2018
The power of a blackbox theatre — particularly a blackbox theatre “in-the-round” (in which the stage is surrounded by seats on all sides) — is the intimacy it creates. If you’ve been to the Irish Classical Theatre before, you’re familiar with the unique experience that is cultivated through a space like this. The audience feels like they have a unique portal into the characters’ souls, and it often feels like they’re a part of the story the actors are creating. Shows that thrive in these venues usually feature small casts, minimal sets pieces, and a few very multi-layered characters telling a moving story.
This description certainly aligns with “The Night Alive”, the award-winning play written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson that recently opened at Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre Company (ICTC). The show is quirky, dark, hilarious, complicated, and deeply moving. With a five-person cast and a story that beautifully weaves together a lot of heavy thematic material, it is the perfect pairing of play and performance space.
“The Night Alive” is set in the basement of a house in Dublin which is inhabited by Tommy (Brian Mysliwy), a divorced laborer who lives in squalor and doesn’t seem to mind it. He rents the room from his Uncle Maurice (Vincent O’Neill) who lives upstairs. Tommy’s friend, Doc (Kevin Craig), also sleeps in the room and helps Tommy doing odd jobs with Tommy’s van. Doc isn’t the brightest bulb, but he’s a fiercely loyal friend, and full of ideas and imagination.
One night Tommy rescues a young prostitute called Aimee (Cassie Gorniewicz) from a beating on the street. He brings her home to get her cleaned up and she ends up staying. A tentative friendship develops between Tommy and Aimee and indeed between Aimee and the other men in the house over the following weeks. Trouble crashes into their lives however, when Aimee’s ex-boyfriend/pimp Kenneth (Adam Yellen), comes looking for her.
“The Night Alive” earned Conor McPherson the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play 2013, and it’s no wonder why. The script is a dark, quirky masterpiece that is as funny as it is sorrowful, and the way in which these two seemingly distant emotions are woven together throughout the show is pretty stunning.
ICTC’s production of “The Night Alive” is superb, and its strength lies in the talent of its small cast, who all bring unique and distinct characters to the theatre’s stage. Some particularly great standouts (though the whole cast was outstanding): Vincent O’Neill (who is also ICTC’s Co-Founder and Artistic Director) is a disheveled, crotchety, manic old geezer who delivers constant laughs one minute, and the next minute is giving a heartbreaking monologue about the loss of his wife, and Adam Yellen, who—while only in the show for two scenes—is a terrifying nightmare of a thug.
ICTC’s production of “The Night Alive” is excellent. It will challenge you, make you laugh, and have you contemplating life and death. It might also give you a craving for turnips (you’ll get the joke after you see the show).