So, the thing about Conor McPherson’s plays is this: it’s not so much the spectacle, such as it is, of a bunch of guys collected “to craig for another bout,” talking about their lives, and their loves won and lost. It’s the way their stories, and their souls, grow on you as you leave the theatre. And you hit the sack. And you get up the next morning, still wondering about these humble Dublin folk.
Quotidian Theatre’s re-staging of McPherson’s early play, “Port Authority,” should fit regular audiences of their Bethesda shows like a pair of cozy slippers; but the real draw of this production is McPherson’s way of getting under your skin, and into your head, as you ponder the 3 men onstage, each of whom is seemingly separate, with completely different lives.
…don’t be surprised if you find yourself haunted by these characters, in much the same way that they are haunted themselves.
As the evening unfolds, we realize that in spite of the sheer size of Dublin, there are very few degrees of separation between them; McPherson discreetly sees to it that we understand how close these men are to actually encountering each other, strangers as they are. And it’s not as if they have much in common; it’s often said that men are always after one thing—but it’s never the same thing, and that certainly is the case here, as we learn about the lives of 3 distinct generations of Dubliners.
Consider Joe – the touchingly stubborn Joseph Palka—a denizen of a local retirement home, who receives a mysterious gift one day that sets him off on a trail of thought lined with vivid, bittersweet memories of the woman next door. From the outside, Joe (now a widower) led a typical life as a husband and father, faithful and all—with a secret which only he and his neighbor’s wife can appreciate. His is a tale of infatuation that could have easily gone awry, and tragically so; but even the decision to choose safety and conformity takes its own toll, one which he continues to wrestle with.
Then you have middle-aged Dermot—a Grade A jerk if there ever was one—whose awkwardness in social situations is not exactly aided by his capacity for infinite amounts of alcohol. His own tall tale begins with being hired unexpectedly by a high-flying financial firm, and dealing with his own temptations. Which, unlike Joe, he has no clue how to hide, and of course he’s utterly clueless about how to act on his lust, unvarnished as it is. A wild weekend in L.A. lays to rest any pretense Dermot may have of dignity, or brains. Matthew Vaky’s take on this pathetic sod is brilliantly sleazy, with hilarious moments of awkwardness spiked with just a twinge of guilt (Dermot is, of course, married).
Last but not least there’s young Kevin—the charming, plain-spoken Chris Stinson—making his first steps into something vaguely resembling adulthood, and moving into a group house with a couple of mates. This first attempt at freedom fails spectacularly, but not before he navigates the treacherous waters of friendship vs. all-out bedfest with two women in his life. He has dilemmas, if not outright temptations, and his story has its own charming trajectory, with—it seems—a far less tragic outcome.
The three end up alone, but each in his own way, with the memory of women haunting and frustrating them in equal measure. As psychological portraits, these three characters are finely drawn, and it’s a tribute to Director Jack Sbarbari that we understand the three strands, each quite distinct as they are woven together.
Sbarbori’s set, I should add, is a treat for the eyes, as the planking of a Dublin boathouse is dotted with bric-a-brac from days gone by, with a beer ad or two thrown in for good measure. (Fun fact: if you like what you see, feel free to contact the Box Office so you can take some of the cool gear home after the production wraps up). Don Slater’s lights effectively help us focus as each man steps up to tell his tale, and Sbarbori’s costumes heighten the differences –from Palka’s tweedy suit to Vaky’s lime-green soccer jersey.
“Port Authority” is an evening of deceptively easy chat; the turmoil, the struggles, hover over the stage and only occasionally come crashing into view. If you come to see this fine Quotidian production, don’t be surprised if you find yourself haunted by these characters, in much the same way that they are haunted themselves.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Advisory: The show is not suitable for children under 15.
“Port Authority” runs through November 17 at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, Maryland. For tickets phone 1-800-838-3006, extension 1, or visit online.