Review: Port Authority (Writers Theatre)

| November 16, 2013
Patrick Clear and John Hoogenakker star in Writers Theatre's "Port Authority" by Conor McPherson, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        
      
Port Authority

Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by William Brown 
at Writers Theatre, Glencoe (map)
thru Feb 16 Mar 2  |  tickets: $35-$70   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
                   Read review
     


Now extended through March 2nd!

  

Starkly minimalist production goes straight to the heart

     

Rob Fenton, John Hoogenakker and Patrick Clear in Writers Theatre's "Port Authority" by Conor McPherson, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

    
Writers Theatre presents
    
Port Authority

Review by Catey Sullivan 

Three actors, a virtually bare stage and a script that allows for no verbal interaction between the trio of performers. That’s all you need when that script is by Conor McPherson, the Irish playwright of subtly phenomenal storytelling skills whose darkly poetic works include The Good Thief, The Weir, Shining City and A Dublin Carol. With Port Authority, Writers Theatre captures the bleak, poetic beauty of McPherson’s quietly spellbinding text. A starkly minimalist production that goes straight to the heart by forging a bond with the audience that feels almost primal, Port Authority is theater as anti-spectacle, raw, stark and unadorned.

Directed by William Brown and featuring John Hoogenakker, Patrick Clear and Rob Fenton, Port Authority weaves a gripping narrative from the seemingly unremarkable lives of the working class Everymen.

John Hoogenakker and Rob Fenton in Writers Theatre's "Port Authority" by Conor McPherson, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)The piece does requires a bit of adjustment for those accustomed to the flashy marvels of much contemporary theater. The set consists of a battered brick wall and three chairs. The house lights don’t dim for the initial scenes, thus removing the automatic sensation of being "somewhere else" that invariably occurs when the audience is plunged into darkness before a stage that’s illuminated as if by the suns of another world. Rachel Laritz‘s costume design has the actors clothed in garments that would make them indistinguishable as performers were they seated in the audience.

The impact of such low-key production values renders the fourth wall eerily porous. Between the stage and the seats, there’s no barrier delineating audience and performers. The space at the back of Books of Vernon could be a pub, the audience patrons eavesdropping on other people’s troubles.

The intertwined stories of the three men do not appear joined until late in the piece. For a good hour, the three generations – 20something Kevin (Fenton); long married businessman Dermot (Hoogenakker) and retiree Joe (Clear) – appear to be spinning yarns wholly contained within their own lives.

When the links between the three do become clear, it’s with a paradoxically off-hand intensity . The connections feel almost casual, but at the same time, they speak to a much larger concept: That no matter how lonesome or isolated we might feel, our lives are inextricably bound up in the lives of others. The human race is a population of accidental communities and just because the ties that bind are invisible doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

It wouldn’t do to give away much of McPherson’s elegantly wrought plot. Suffice to say that Fenton is pitch-perfect as a young man stumbling toward adulthood as 20somethings do, through a maze of bars, sex, and alcohol. Fenton brings a sense of innocence and vulnerability to Kevin that has you rooting for him, even as your heart breaks for him.

Rob Fenton, John Hoogenakker and Patrick Clear in Writers Theatre's "Port Authority" by Conor McPherson, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Hoogenakker is pitch-perfect as the human embodiment of middle-aged resignation and disappointment. Recounting a disastrous business trip and an equally catastrophic dinner party, Dermot captures all the humiliation and desperation of realizing you’re on the lower end of the totem pole both socially and economically and then further realizing that life on those bottommost rungs is as good as it’s going to get for you. It’s impossible not to empathize with Dermot, even as he drinks himself into oblivion and treats his overweight wife with undeniable cruelty.

Finally there’s Clear, portraying a man whose past catches up to him when a small, ordinary object arrives in the mail. As Joe, Clear has the responsibility of creating a portrait of pure, thunderstruck love of the sort that lasts a lifetime, even if the object of one’s affections is little more than a distantly remembered photograph. Capturing both the emotion and its impact on a lifetime is a tall order, and Clear fulfills it beautifully.

In the end, Joe, Kevin and Dermot are joined by the common yearning. McPherson renders that yearning gorgeously, capturing all the sadness and joy that define us as humans.

  
Rating: ★★★
  
   

Port Authority continues through February 16th March 2nd at Writers Theatre, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe (map), with performances Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays 4pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm and 6pm.  Tickets are $35-$70, and are available by phone (847-242-6000) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at WritersTheatre.org(Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes)

John Hoogenakker in Writers Theatre's "Port Authority" by Conor McPherson, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)  Rob Fenton in Writers Theatre's "Port Authority" by Conor McPherson, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)Theatre  Patrick Clear in Writers Theatre's "Port Authority" by Conor McPherson, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


     

artists

cast

Patrick Clear (Joe), Rob Fenton (Kevin), John Hoogenakker (Dermit)

behind the scenes

William Brown (director), Martin Andrew (scenic), Rachel Laritz (costumes), Sarah Hughey (lights), Andrew Hansen (sound), Julie Eberhardt (props), Dana Nestrick (stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)

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Category: 2013 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Conor McPherson, Writers' Theatre

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