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  • Chris ORourke

Port Authority

Jarlath Tivnan, Garrett Keogh and Patrick Ryan in Port Authority. Image uncredited


The Same Old Theme

Behind every beta man stands an even greater woman who once took pity on him. Such is often the case in Conor McPherson’s “Port Authority" from 2001 in which three emotionally constipated males, at various stages of life, deliver three loosely interconnected monologues about the women that got away and those who decided to keep them. If Decadent’s production of McPherson’s all male tale delivers several laughs along the way, as well as one crowning performance, ultimately, like its three plodding protagonists, it never quite delivers that killer blow when it needed to. 

A new place to live, a new job, and an old photograph see Northsiders Kevin, Dermot, and Joe respectively, ruminating on their various conditions, each offering variations of the same old theme. The youthful Kevin wants a place of his own. Or rather wants to share a house with two questionable head cases because the loved from afar Clare is taking the spare room. Meanwhile, middle aged Dermot can’t believe his luck when he lands a great new job, given that his life, like his confidence, is regularly oiled by alcohol. A petrified parvenu punching above his weight, Dermot’s real life fantasy is imploding while his wife minds the children back home. In a home of a different kind, pensioner Joe remembers a time when he wonders if he did the right thing for the wrong reasons, or did the wrong thing for the right reasons. If the ties that bind are loosely woven in McPherson’s interrogation of the male psyche, all three men, representing various stages in the male life cycle, find their stories interwoven not so much by place and circumstance, but by the women in their lives, their responses to whom helping define who they are.

Understatement is the operative word under Andrew Flynn’s direction, with “Port Authority” being visually pared back to a series of four wooden crates. Programme notes claim the play is set in a theatre, but it’s impossible to tell from the set. Mike O’Halloran’s lighting design works superbly well at reinforcing Flynn’s minimalist aspirations. So much so that when marks are missed in one or two instances, shadows are immediately noticeable. Pace also proves problematic for being heavily imbalanced, particularly by Jarlath Tivnan’s Kevin. While Tivnan makes some definitive choices, they’re particularly curious ones. Sounding like a storyteller on a children’s TV show telling someone else’s tale, replete with deliberate gestures, Tivnan can seem artificial against the heightened naturalist performances of the rest of the cast. Patrick Ryan’s self-pitying Dermot proves painfully recognisible, with Ryan delivering a thoroughly engaging performance. Garrett Keogh’s Joe, meanwhile, is a tour de force. Standing still, working with just voice and expression for the most part, Keogh’s pitch perfectly nuanced delivery, imbued with a near rhythmic musicality, proves less is indeed so very much more. So much more you could listen to Keogh till the cows came home. At which point you’d send them back out again just so you could listen some more.

As in McPherson’s This Lime Tree Bower, monologuing men talk the talk in “Port Authority.” But they never quite walk the walk. It's women who fight while men go with the flow, women who make choices and remember choices. Such is the richness of McPherson’s writing that even though women are never onstage, they’re everywhere present and made palpable through the words. As are a myriad of everyday observations, from TV programmes to house parties, that give "Port Authority" its wonderful textural richness. Indeed, if the general rule is show, don’t tell, McPherson's art lies in showing through the telling. If not everything shows as well as it might in “Port Authority,” those moments when it shines, most notably Keogh’s superb performance, prove hugely impressive and genuinely telling. Pun deliberately intended. 

“Port Authority” by Conor McPherson, presented by Decadent, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until March 9.

For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre

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