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Port Authority at Writers Theatre: Theater review

Three Dublin men reflect on what might have been in Conor McPherson's interlocking monologues, exquisitely acted in Writers Theatre's production.

 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
1/5
Photograph: Michael BrosilowRob Fenton, John Hoogenaker and Patrick Clear in Port Authority at Writers Theatre
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
2/5
Photograph: Michael BrosilowJohn Hoogenaker in Port Authority at Writers Theatre
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
3/5
Photograph: Michael BrosilowPatrick Clear in Port Authority at Writers Theatre
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
4/5
Photograph: Michael BrosilowRob Fenton in Port Authority at Writers Theatre
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
5/5
Photograph: Michael BrosilowPatrick Clear and John Hoogenaker in Port Authority at Writers Theatre

Irish playwright Conor McPherson is known for his monologue plays trafficking in stories of ghosts and demons: The Weir, Shining City, The Seafarer. His 2001 work Port Authority is another set of interlocking monologues, delivered by three Dublin men at different stages of their lives. This trio, too, is haunted—not by spirits, though, but by the undying specter of what could have been.

Young Kevin (Rob Fenton) moves out of his parents' house for the first time and finds himself yearning for an attractive, unavailable woman. Sad sack Dermot (John Hoogenakker) lucks into a fancy job that seems to offer a too-good-to-be-true escape from a wife and child who've come to feel like shackles. Joe (Patrick Clear), a widower in a nursing home, receives an unexpected package that transports him back to an unsought, unrequited but unshakeable experience of star-crossed love.

The three recount their memories in turns that craftily reveal how they're lightly connected. Each of them, we come to realize via McPherson's evocative prose and these three actors' acute, meticulous performances, is doomed—or blessed—to forever live with what-ifs thanks to their own passive natures.

McPherson's small, past-tense tales can feel overly static on larger stages, but William Brown's lovely, appropriately haunting staging in Writers Theatre's cozy back-of-the-bookstore space (the first of two McPherson plays here this season, with the playwright's adaptation of Strindberg's The Dance of Death to follow in the spring) allows his terrific cast to scale their work at just the right level of heightened urgency without pushing too hard.

Some years back, a colleague of mine described McPherson's body of work—not unadmiringly—as "ceaselessly bleak," a phrase that stayed with me. Port Authority, perhaps, is the exception that proves the rule: regretful, certainly wistful, but in a vein in which hope and possibility also course.

"Maybe there isn’t a soul for every person in the world. Maybe there’s just two. One for people who go with the flow, and one for all the people who fight," says Kevin (with Fenton, the youngest of the three actors, stepping up with electrically affecting work that matches that of sturdy vets Hoogenakker and Clear). As the play's title and undefined milieu suggest, McPherson's men are those who mark time in the way station, waiting for the flow to carry them where it may.

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