Reviewed by Will Stackman
A midlife crisis has never been so hilarious, or as profound, as in Marie Jones' long-running "A Night in November," with award-winning actor Marty Maguire as the storyteller. The mystical art of the shannachie is alive and bouncing off the walls at Jimmy Tingle's Off-Broadway in Davis Square, Somerville through Thanksgiving. In a masterful performance, Maguire brings Kenneth Norman McAllister, a Belfast Protestant, and some forty of his countrymen--and women--to uproarious life. The actor began doing this piece in 2002 in L.A. to sold-out audiences, took it to Edinburgh the same year where it won awards, to London and Dublin with equal success, and back to L.A. where it won 2 Ovation Awards in 2005. He had a few movie roles mixed in. Maguire began his professional career in a play by Jones in 1988. This monodrama might well have been written with him in mind. He recently took the lead in Jones' latest play, "The Blind Fiddler" at the Edinburgh Festival as well as the lead in "The Field" at the Irish Rep. in NYC. Strangely, this yarn hasn't made its mark on the Big Apple, but give it time. (Webmaster’s note: Actually, it has, just not as a huge commercial hit. In the late 90s it debuted at the Irish Arts Center, starring Dan Gordon. It reopened off-Broadway for an open-ended run that lasted several months. Last season the Irish Arts Center brought it back in the production reviewed here, starring Marty Maguire and directed by Tim Byron Owens. I reviewed it all three times.)
Jones, whose "Stones in His Pockets" was an instant classic, starts her tale on "A Night in November", once upon a time, when Kenneth begins to realize how hollow his lower-middle class existence as a dole-clerk has become, when he takes his wife's nicotine-fiend father to a crucial soccer match between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and is ashamed at how completely prejudiced the old hooligan is. His frustration mounts with his wife, his job, his social friends and the dismal political stalemate under which he lives. The comic absurdity of it all becomes maddening. There's no way out. But of course there is. Jones sends him on an impulse off to New York in April to be close to the World Cup competition. The result is even more hilarious and ultimately uplifting. Like any good fable there's a chance McAllister might just live happier when he goes back to Belfast.
This energetic one-man show is perfectly suited for JTOB, a small shallow three-quarter basement venue set up cabaret style for this run. The only set is a stack of boxes, red white and blue at first, representing McAllister's Unionist background. A suit coat, a red cardigan, and a football supporters T-shirt are Maguire's sole costume changes/props. The backdrop is an out-of-focus mural of soccer fans in the stands. Minimal light effects help change the scene, particularly for our man's inner monologues. Director Tim Byron Owens has modulated Maguire's performance through all this little man's frustrations and comic despair.
Many impressive shows from the contemporary Irish theatre have been seen in Boston, including "By the Bog of Cats" currently running at the Devanaughn. This comic jewel, settled in for a decent run, is up with the best of them. Davis Square in Somerville, with a stop on the MBTA Red Line has become lively nighttime destination, and JTOB has set up several dinner and show packages. Tingle, a nationally know comic, whose family home is just a few blocks away in Cambridge, keeps the place well-booked with his own shows, fellow Boston stand-up favorites, representatives of New England's still lively folk scene, and the odd children's show. This show starts at 7:30 nightly to accommodate late night comedy shows and adjacent nightlife and runs through Thanksgiving.