Civic Theatre, Tallaght
LOOKING BACK at Conor McPherson’s Port Authority, more than a decade since the play was first performed, it seems less like a sketch of three generations of rudderless Dublin men than a picture of an entire nation adrift. Premiered in early 2001, it is among the last of McPherson’s monologue plays, a form suited to a consummate storyteller, but which had begun to yield fewer dramatic surprises. Now, though, there seems to be a more persuasive reason for the isolation of the speakers.
Rationing out their stories in turns, the characters seem to be unrelated (although threads of association gradually develop between them), although together they might make up one lifetime. We begin with the young Kevin, played with becoming insouciance by Carl Kennedy, as he describes leaving home to share a house in Donnycarney with his mates, including the unattainable object of his affections, Clare.
Kennedy recognises a directionless character for whom “moving out was like pretending to make a decision” and his inertia dovetails into the more brutally comic story of Dermot, whose bullishness – as a surprising new appointment to a firm of power-brokers – camouflages a man clearly out of his depth. Phelim Drew gives Dermot an aggressive front – shoulders back, chin held high – but always seeming ready to crumple. Ashamed of his wife because she doesn’t fit his meritless new lifestyle, governed by his id, fuelled by resentment and litres of gin, he seems like the nastiest consequence of the Celtic Tiger years.
Yet McPherson’s writing strips him bare and Drew keeps him just within the orbit of understanding.
Garrett Keogh has the more sympathetic role, as Joe, a widower in a nursing home, both Christian and stoic, reflecting on a life of sensible choices and a passion that almost got the better of him.
These stories crisscross each other without ever making contact and together resemble a paean to settling, an ode to second best, which director Andrew Flynn accentuates with a tone of minor key resignation.
Keogh is most sensitive to that mood – even Joe’s concluding words won’t make a drama out of his life – yet elsewhere such passivity verges towards listlessness. Even Kevin’s most decisive action – asking another girl out – is presented as an unconscious reflex, although he sums up the play’s philosophy: that the world is divided between fighters and those who go with the flow.
Some will still find the off-stage women quite crudely drawn; unattainable beauties, inarticulate girlfriends, wives who are either trophy or long-suffering, but they are fighters all. The sense of Decadent Theatre’s stately production, though, is that this is an everyman perspective in strangely enervated times. Today, says Joe, “everyone is on Valium because they don’t know who they are”. You emerge almost nostalgic for such indulged, abstract crises, where few acted with direct authority, and everyone seemed to be listing to port.
Until Saturday, then tours nationwide until November 24th