Steppenwolf Theatre Company. By Conor McPherson. Directed by Henry Wishcamper. With Francis Guinan, Helen Sadler, Tim Hopper, M. Emmet Walsh, Dan Waller. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Tommy (Francis Guinan) is estranged from his wife and children and living—barely—in a filthy, cluttered room as a tenant of his uncle Maurice (M. Emmet Walsh), getting by on odd jobs he performs with his half-there pal Doc (Tim Hopper). One night, Tommy happens upon a young woman named Aimee (Helen Sadler) receiving a beating in the street, and brings her home to get cleaned up and, maybe, stay a while.
Conor McPherson's usual compassion for his characters is on full display here, but there's something else missing in Henry Wishcamper's Steppenwolf production: drive. The early scenes provide a situation but no propulsion, while the play's latter half thrusts on a series of increasingly unsupportable actions.
Aimee remains ill-defined and unknowable, rendering her little more than an object to spur Tommy back to life. (Though Guinan is terrific as usual, the pronounced age difference between him and Sadler makes the pairing feel more father-daughter than romantic, up until the point where Aimee gives Tommy a hand job in exchange for cash. Then it just feels gross.) Aimee's sadistic boyfriend (Dan Waller), who shows up to terrorize poor Doc for some reason, is equally opaque. All told, The Night Alive is among McPherson's least vibrant works.