Playwright of The Night Alive, Conor McPherson has been called “one of the true poets of theatre” and even “the greatest dramatist of his generation”. When he writes, he tries to capture something of what it is to be human in this world, and knows that “…no sound is dissonant when it tells of life.” This quote (a line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “This Lime Tree Bower My Prison”) prefaced one of Conor McPherson’s first plays, and is a philosophical thread that runs through his entire body of work. As his characters grapple with love, life, fear, guilt, family, and death, anything goes. His plays are characterized by a series of sharp right turns and startling plot twists, with surprises exploding every few pages. Some spring from situations and experiences beyond the scope of human understanding from simple ghost stories to complicated, looming questions of life and death. Not a sound is dissonant, however, amid all the shocks and supernatural spins of McPherson’s worlds, because his characters are such compelling – albeit sometimes unlikely – storytellers. They draw us into their world as they grasp for words that fall short and fail them. Their stumbling, stopping, restarting and stuttering to trail off, mid-sentence sets the pace in McPherson’s poetry, infusing his plays with an astounding authenticity.
McPherson’s plays have received productions throughout the UK and from coast to coast across the United States. As the sound and rhythm of his language catch more ears, his body of work is evolving from monologue plays (such as The Good Thief or Rum and Vodka) through multi-character plays composed of story-telling monologues (think: The Weir) and on to more dialogue-based, multi-character scripts like The Night Alive. McPherson retains that this change to his writing style is not a conscious choice; perhaps the many productions of his work have helped him “come to know better what audiences like – what freaks them out, what’s boring – by being before so many audiences.”
Undermain Theatre is delighted to continue bringing McPherson’s exciting new plays to Dallas audiences and to be among the professional companies producing his developing body of work across the globe.
Since Undermain’s first McPherson production in 2001, the company has returned to his work throughout many seasons. His powerful imagery and stunning use of language exemplify the poetic work seen on stage at Undermain. St. Nicholas, a McPherson play in which an embittered Irish theater critic finds himself thrust into a twilight world of vampires and the damned, was the winner of the Meyer Whitworth Award and the joint winner of the 1997 George Devine Award. In Undermain’s production of this monologue play, the narrator was brought to life by Executive Producer and founding company member Bruce DuBose (who will play Tommy in The Night Alive this season). Towards the end of that same decade, when Undermain brought Shining City (Tony-nominated for Best Play) to the basement in Undermain’s 2007-2008 season, DuBose tackled John, yet another McPherson character. Though this play features the dialogue of four characters, there are several scenes in which John, wracked with guilt and haunted by his wife who died in a horrific car accident, monologues from lights up to lights down with only brief and occasional interjections from a priest-turned-therapist who’s battling demons of his own.
As McPherson’s writing has changed and evolved, so have the settings of his plays and the set designs they necessitate. In an interview for TCG, McPherson relayed, in no uncertain terms, that he did not like to set plays in rooms, boxed in with walls. Instead, he preferred mystery, for “there to be a lot of darkness around the image” on stage, to embody “the idea of the infinite spreading out from the story.” According to McPherson, the Irish, especially, have a preoccupation with the infinite Irish, especially, have a preoccupation with the infinite unknown. Whether this is tied to Catholicism’s “superstitious” and “ghostly imagery” or partly due to Ireland’s location at the edge of Europe, the “beyond” has taken root in the country’s collective psyche. The inherent mystery in what lies beyond the scope of human understanding churns under the surface of all McPherson’s plays, often manifesting itself in the supernatural. His plays have brought to the stage ghosts and their stories, vampires, and even a poker game with the devil himself. Though this great sense of the unknowable is viscerally present in his work, it is not always overtly supernatural. In Shining City, for example, John’s therapist confides that, though he doesn’t believe in ghosts, there was a time that he “would have given anything to see one. Just to know that there was . . . something else.’’ Even in the absence of specters and ghouls, an awareness of the uncertainty of what came before consciousness and what might come after is always on stage with McPherson’s plays.
As in Undermain’s productions of St. Nicholas and Shining City, Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive contains elements of unwavering supernatural darkness and mystery. Though it takes place in a room (complete with walls), these questions of life, death and all manner of dark forces are constantly pressing in on the periphery of the play, seeping in through cracks in the windows or lurking just outside the door. In this regional premiere, directed by Artistic Associate Dylan Key, Bruce DuBose will again take the stage as one of McPherson’s by Artistic Associate Dylan Key, Bruce DuBose will again take the stage as one of McPherson’s characters, playing Tommy, a middle-aged misfit renting a run-down room from his uncle Maurice (Gordon Fox), rolling from one get-rich-quick scheme to another with his mystic mate, Doc (Scott Latham), until one day he rescues Aimee (Katherine Bourne) from a physical attack by a shadowy figure in her life (Marcus Stimac). This production will feature the designs of Robert Winn (scenic), Steve Woods (lighting), Claudia Stephens (costume), Bruce DuBose (sound), and Beck Schlabach (properties). The Night Alive, winner of the NY Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best play of 2013/14, opens Saturday, November 21st and runs through December 12th.
~Abigail Birkett, Undermain Emerging Artist
Tickets available at www.undermain.org or by calling the Box Office at 214.747.5515