Tin pot, on-the-spot caregiver, Tommy says it best. “You can’t save everybody,” least of all himself it would seem.
Ciarán Hinds, as Tommy in Conor McPherson’s new play, The Night Alive, playing at the Atlantic Theater, lives day to day doing odd jobs and barely making enough to get by. He isn’t morose about his meager existence. If he died suddenly, “People would be upset, probably,” he says. Tommy needs to feel needed. Always thinking about others, caring for them, in his own tin-pot way.
Tommy lives in his Uncle Maurice’s house in Dublin. Separated from his wife, Tommy tries by phone to help discipline his teenage son and daughter who won’t listen to him. We should dislike him, but we don’t. There’s the possibility that we can identify with him, because we all need to feel needed. He really isn’t a bad man, as the press release for the play tells us.
Upon witnessing a girl being beaten, Tommy brings her to his place, more hovel than place. Aimee, Caoilfhionn Dunne, is a deeply bottled up mess of emotions. She’s been through hell and back. Tommy takes care of her, that seems to be his nature; on-the-spot caregiver, not just with Aimee, but with Doc, inebriated Uncle Maurice, and he takes care of Kenneth too.
Tommy comes in through the window of his room, assisting a bleeding and shaken Aimee by holding her hand as she enters. “Are ya alright?,” he asks her. Tommy is capable of offering a helping hand, unlike Uncle Maurice who blames himself for the death of his wife Mary. He didn’t hold her hand and she slipped on the ice. Tommy is a reminder that even in the most humble and kip-like hovels of humanity there exists kindness in the form of down and outs who offer each other a helping hand, sometimes it might cost €40. (That’s a pun. You will have to go see the play to understand it.)
Doc, Tommy’s helper, is about ten minutes, correction, five to seven minutes behind the general population in mental processing. Aimee tends to jeer Doc for his simplistic nature and views, maybe it makes her feel better about her situation. Maurice offers warnings and threats and reminders that he and Mary raised Tommy.
Yet it is simplistic Doc who ends up explaining what a black hole is, and gives us the closing lines of the play. Pay close attention to his words and what is happening on stage, because this is where people get into debates, according to the New York Times, about McPherson’s play. This is not a simple, happy ending. There’s more to it.
Ciarán Hinds is the glue that holds everything and everyone together as Tommy. He is a superb actor. Look at his face when he rises from the bed, and thinks about what Doc has told him about Amy on the steps of the Custom House.
Caoilfhionn Dunne gave a fantastic performance as the lost Aimee as she deals with her own dark history.
Doc, played by Michael McElhatton, was my personal favorite in the play. He lives by the KISS rule: Keep it simple, stupid.
Uncle Maurice, Jim Norton, “All mass does is throw ya back out onto the pavement,” gave a simply brilliant performance. It is hard to take your eyes off him when he is on the stage.
Brian Gleeson is unnerving as the strung out, malicious, vengeance bent drug addict, Kenneth.
At one point in the play Tommy, Doc and Amy dance to a song playing on the radio, “What’s going on?” At the end of the play that’s the question we all tried to answer. Is it a new beginning for Tommy? Is this Tommy’s own personal heaven? Listen very carefully to Doc’s parting words and watch Tommy’s behavior in the last few minutes of the play, and you decide. If ever there was a play open to interpretation, this is it.
Worth seeing? Without a doubt.
© Loretto Leary 2013