Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive, imported from the Donmar Warehouse to the Atlantic, tempts you to call it a kitchen sink drama. But the grubby Dublin flat (lovingly detailed by Soutra Gilmour) in which it takes place doesn’t feature anything so luxurious as a kitchen. There is, however, a suitably grimy sink.
The forceful Ciarán Hinds — his Easter Island features blunted beneath a greasy mustache and sideburns — stars as Tommy, a man no longer very young or angry, eking out a marginal living in the room his uncle grudgingly rents. This tenuous existence grows more precarious when he takes in Aimee (an understated Caoilfhionn Dunne), an occasional prostitute beaten by her boyfriend.
McPherson began his career as a writer of monologues. The early plays struggled to meld multiple voices. But he has surmounted that former difficulty, and long passages of The Night Alive fluidly fuse the funny, the melancholy, and the cruel. McPherson also supplies moments of truly startling violence, which is more terrifying because it seems more real than his contemporaries’ guignol antics.
Yet if individual scenes and speeches persuade, the overall piece proves less credible. The drama takes a late turn from the grimly naturalistic to the serenely metaphysical. Why should a play about lives so pointedly disordered end so cleanly?