Review: “Port Authority”

RECOMMENDED

Where: Writers Theatre, Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe
When: through Feb. 16
Tickets: $35-$70
Phone: 847-242-6000

Conor McPherson is a superb storyteller, as anyone who has seen “The Weir,” “Dublin Carol,” “Shining City” or “The Seafarer” knows. Like his other early plays, “Port Authority,” first produced in 2001, shows off his mastery in arguably its purest form: the monologue.

Perfectly suited to Writers Theatre’s intimate space at the back of Books on Vernon, “Port Authority” — possibly named for the port on the working-class north side of the Liffey River, which runs through Dublin — brings together three generations of ordinary Irishmen, who aren’t biologically related but who share hopes, doubts, fears, regrets and questions about their lives and what they could or should be or have been.

The youngest, Kevin (Rob Fenton), is a would-be musician who has left home for the first time to share digs with two boozing blokes and a fascinating young woman, though he falls for a girl with curly hair on his adventures in an alcohol-induced haze. Drinking to excess also fuels the story of Dermot (John Hoogenakker), a middle-aged worker who’s not qualified for the dream job he’s landed, can’t believe his good fortune and makes a fool of himself at gatherings with the new bosses to whom he feels inferior. Joe (Patrick Clear), a retired widower living in a group home, receives a mysterious package that causes him to reflect on his past and the romantic road not taken.

Rather than having each man tell his whole story, McPherson alternates among them, a technique that’s a little disconcerting at first but ultimately highlights the thematic similarities. They start out sitting side-by-side on three slightly different rustic stools on the small stage but move into the audience during the accounts, adding some drama. And although the setting is listed as “in the theatre,” Martin Andrew’s has turned it into something resembling a warehouse, perhaps dockside.

While the playwright’s use of language is phenomenal, part of his talent is that each character sounds right (if a tad hard to understand at times). What they reveal, perhaps unexpectedly, is surprising self-awareness and sensitivity, as each grapples with issues like whether to go with the flow or try to control what happens.

All three actors do a fine job, but I was most shaken by Hoogenakker’s Dermot and his sense of humiliation and failure. That being said, I suspect that “Port Authority” will have a more profound emotional impact on men than women.