Reviewed by David Spencer
There's no question that Irish playwright Conor MacPherson can turn a phrase, but often it seems in the service of so very little. Even when at his most powerful, one wonders, or at least I do, if there isn't some kind of flim-flamming going on, because the stories simply aren't all that original—this season's earlier limited-run hit The Seafarer wasn't, story-wise, much more than an attenuated Twilight Zone episode (what to do when the Devil comes to play cards for your immortal soul)—and at times not all that...well, storied. He has written a number of monologue (for solo actor) and rotating monologue (for several) plays, and most seem to garner acclaim, but I wonder if that isn't simply because he's toiling in vineyards that are usually the province of genre short stories or anthology television (he's partial to Things That Go Bump in the Night) and that aren't usually theatricalized. Can it be that the venue itself makes audiences react to the stuff as if it's "new"? Because literature-wise, it's as old as the hills. Or is it the high poetry of his elegant language so enrapturing that it compensates for the lack of substance elsewhere?
I have no easy answers, for I've liked as many MacPherson plays as I haven't. But I think a fair barometer is whether or not I or my evening's companion can stay awake. And at Port Authority, I am saddened to say, we both failed that test. This is not even one of MacPherson's ghostie tales, but rather a three hander in which a trio of fellows talk about being on the brink of life-changing decisions and deciding not to change their lives.
I'll say that again. Three extended narratives, told in alternating monologue sections, in which it is described for us how these guys, for good or ill, did not choose the adventurous path and stayed the unremarkable people they were when they started the journey. One is a young man, still very much a kid (John Gallagher, Jr.), who likes to hang out with a free-spirited gal but opts for the safer girl next door. One is about a middle aged rising exec (Brian d'Arcy James) who can't hack the fast and swinging lifestyle of the superiors who would kick him up the ladder if he but dared; one is an older guy (Jim Norton) who has long made peace with having settled for a sedate married companion rather than the passionate woman who wanted him, that he might have run away with.
There are some amusing details, as-ever evocative imagery and distinctive character diction...but I'm sorry spending 90 minutes hearing how nothing happens—even if it's meant as a literary irony, in which nothing is, of course, the event, in which hanging back is of course the culmination of desire suppressed by fear, reason or both, and therefore meant as dramatic—is simply not a transporting experience. (And yes, I'm hip to the irony of Mr. MacPherson setting it at railway station too. Journeys not taken. Yes, I get it.)
The three distinguished actors under Henry Wishcamper's sensitive direction could not be bettered, nor lace into their assignments with more relish and conviction. But the high intensity of their concentration isn't quite enough to inspire ours to match it.
May the next train along the MacPherson route use the locomotion of its language to propel a more compelling story and a more interesting ride...