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Port Authority

Conor McPherson's drama of lost souls is back in New York courtesy of the Irish Repertory Theatre.

James Russell as Kevin, Peter Maloney as Joe, and Billy Carter as Dermot in Conor McPherson's Port Authority, directed by Ciarán O'Reilly, at the DR2 Theatre.
(© Carol Rosegg)

Few playwrights are able to bring lost souls to life as vividly as Conor McPherson. The prolific Irish dramatist is an expert at finding the hidden compassion within these people, usually hard-drinking layabouts who've just given up after a major trauma stunted their emotional growth.

Port Authority, McPherson's 2001 drama that saw its New York premiere in 2008 at the Atlantic and is now being revived by the Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre, is a triptych of monologues involving three denizens of the author's particularly bleak twilight zone known as Ireland. Those denizens — Kevin (James Russell), Dermot (Billy Carter), and Joe (Peter Maloney) — are men of vastly different backgrounds, representative of the three men's ages, and their stories prove you don't have to have a lifetime of regrets to be completely lost.

The monologues are loosely connected at best, but McPherson is less worried about dramatic conventions than he is about creating a milieu of misery. Young Kevin has just moved out of his parents' house and into an apartment with two guys and his first non-girlfriend female friend with whom he immediately starts envisioning a life. Middle-aged Dermot gets offered a preposterously fancy job that he knows he doesn't deserve and finds himself Los Angeles-bound, where he must deal with the sudden aftershocks. Joe, living in a home for senior citizens, begins to recall the woman who got away when he inexplicably receives a photograph of her in the mail.

They're all quiet, meticulously detailed tales through which director Ciarán O'Reilly guides his three actors into a trio of unassuming performances that end up to be, individually, quite poignant. Russell, Carter, and Maloney bring a world-weary gravitas to their roles and infuse them with that quality every time they speak. The particular standout is Carter, whose Dermot is perfectly defined through his physicality: slumped shoulders, slightly petulant demeanor, and tousled hair, all of which are underscored by designer Linda Fisher's subtle costume choice of a wrinkly brown suit with a tie that's always askew. Watching these guys act makes you believe that they're living in a collective purgatory, one that feels like it is exactly in line with McPherson's original vision.

O'Reilly's physical production, on the other hand, doesn't play up this purgatory feeling that's so prevalent throughout. McPherson's only note on location is that "The play is set in the theatre"; however literal or metaphorical that can be taken is up to a creative team. O'Reilly places the action on the Irish seaside. Michael Gottlieb's lighting punctuates the set with blue-gray clouds that swirl over set designer Charlie Corcoran's multilevel stone wall. Seagulls squawk as the audience enters (M. Florian Staab did the sound). Though the decisions in this production are a reminder that Port Authority is an abstract work that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, they do make the play feel less ominous, thereby losing some of its haunting power. And in a work that's all about people constantly preoccupied by the decisions they made, it's too important a quality to lose.