Theatre Review: ‘The Night Alive’ at Irish Classical Theatre

The power of a blackbox theatre—particularly a blackbox theatre “in-the-round” (in which the stage is surrounded by seats on all sides)—is the intimacy it creates. If you’ve been to the Irish Classical Theatre before, you’re familiar with the unique experience that is cultivated through a space like this. The audience feels like they have a unique portal into the characters’ souls, and it often feels like they’re a part of the story the actors are creating. Shows that thrive in these venues usually feature small casts, minimal sets pieces, and a few very multi-layered characters telling a moving story. This description certainly aligns with “The Night Alive”, the award-winning play written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson that recently opened at Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre Company (ICTC). The show is quirky, dark, hilarious, complicated, and deeply moving. With a five-person cast and a story that beautifully weaves together a lot of heavy thematic material, it is the perfect pairing of play and performance space.

 . . .superb, and its strength lies in the talent of its small cast. . .

“The Night Alive” is set in the basement of a house in Dublin which is inhabited by Tommy (Brian Mysliwy), a divorced laborer who lives in squalor and doesn’t seem to mind it. He rents the room from his Uncle Maurice (Vincent O’Neill) who lives upstairs. Tommy’s friend, Doc (Kevin Craig), also sleeps in the room and helps Tommy doing odd jobs with Tommy’s van. Doc isn’t the brightest bulb, but he’s a fiercely loyal friend, and full of ideas and imagination. One night Tommy rescues a young prostitute called Aimee (Cassie Gorniewicz) from a beating on the street. He brings her home to get her cleaned up and she ends up staying. A tentative friendship develops between Tommy and Aimee and indeed between Aimee and the other men in the house over the following weeks. Trouble crashes into their lives however, when Aimee’s ex-boyfriend/pimp Kenneth (Adam Yellen), comes looking for her.

“The Night Alive” earned Conor McPherson the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play 2013, and it’s no wonder why. The script is a dark, quirky masterpiece that is as funny as it is sorrowful, and the way in which these two seemingly distant emotions are woven together throughout the show is pretty stunning.

ICTC’s production of “The Night Alive” is superb, and its strength lies in the talent of its small cast, who all bring unique and distinct characters to the theatre’s stage. Some particularly great standouts (though the whole cast was outstanding): Vincent O’Neill (who is also ICTC’s Co-Founder and Artistic Director) is a disheveled, crotchety, manic old geezer who delivers constant laughs one minute, and the next minute is giving a heartbreaking monologue about the loss of his wife, and Adam Yellen, who—while only in the show for two scenes—is a terrifying nightmare of a thug.

ICTC’s production of “The Night Alive” is excellent. It will challenge you, make you laugh, and have you contemplating life and death. It might also give you a craving for turnips (you’ll get the joke after you see the show).

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes with one 10 minute intermission.

“The Night Alive” runs until March 25, 2018 and is presented at the Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here

First Look: ‘The Night Alive’ at Irish Classical Theatre

Vincent O’Neill and Brian Mysliwy in ‘The Night Alive’ at Irish Classical Theatre.

Great plays are plot-driven; exceptional plays are character driven. That human element draws you into a story, exposes your imagination to heartache or triumph, takes you to a place that may be comforting or disturbing. The relationships between the characters can move you or repel you, entertain you or unnerve you…but it’s that connection to humanity to forms a bond between character and audience.

It’s the quirky, disturbing, and funny characters that drive the next production for the Irish Classical Theatre Company. In “The Night Alive,” which opened March 2, playwright Conor McPherson sets his story in a once grand manor, now a bedsit for five men. One of them meets a young prostitute who was just beaten and he brings her home. For a bunch of lonely and cast aside men, this moment of rescue invites new humanity to their grubby lives. “When I read this amazing and odd script about a year ago, I felt that, when all was said and done, it was a love story,” says Director Brian Cavanagh. “Now after months of research, discussions and rehearsals, I have many new thoughts and opinions about “The Night Alive,” but I still feel it’s a love story.”

He’s assembled quite the cast, ironically, with many alumni of the stellar Niagara University theatre program. “When I started looking for actors to play the characters they had to be what my mind had made them after so many hours with the script. They had to feel and fit my interpretation of the written person. I must say that I feel very confident with the ensemble of actors in our play.”

The production stars Brian Mysliwy (in his 10th ICTC production), ICTC Artistic Director Vincent O’Neill as his uncle Maurice, Cassie Gorniewicz (who recently relocated to Buffalo) as the only female guest Aimee, Kevin Craig as Tommy’s sidekick and partner in crime Doc, and Adam Yellen as Kenneth, the menacing stranger who wanders in.

These aren’t mainstream Dublin characters: they’re living on the fringe, not the most relatable of personalities.  Making these disparate characters connect onstage, and then reach into the audience may not always be comfortable, especially when the characters may not be the likeable sort. Cavanagh says, “In any story the characters have to be honest and emotionally convincing.”

Called a “true poet of contemporary theatre,” McPherson is no stranger to the ICTC stage. His works “The Weir” in 2001 and “The Shining City “ in 2011 were solid points of entry into this young playwright’s body of work.  “The Night Alive” was named the best play by the New York Drama Critics Circle in 2013-14, and earned critical acclaim in Dublin, London and New York.

“The Night Alive” runs from March 2 to 25, 2018 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.