Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Night Alive
Dobama Theatre
Review by Mark Horning


David Peacock and Joel Hammer
Photo by Steve Wagner Photography
Conor McPherson writes about the underbelly of civilization and in particular off the beaten path in Ireland where the tour busses would never dare to stop. His characters are generally flawed ne'er do wells who have fallen through the cracks of society. These are people who live on the margin having no regular job or hope for better days on the horizon and who have spurned relationships that could be their anchor in life. In short, pickers, prostitutes and paranoids occupy the stage of such works as Shining City, The Seafarer and The Night Alive, now on stage at Dobama Theatre.

Tommy (Joel Hammer) lives in squalid conditions on the ground floor of what was once a fashionable house belonging to his widowed uncle Maurice (Robert Hawkes), who occupies the upper floor. Tommy's one constant friend is Doc (David Peacock), described by Tommy as living "five to ten seconds behind everybody else." Electricity for the lower floor is purchased through a "pay as you go" coin-operated meter that Tommy has learned to bypass by picking the lock and using the same one Euro coin over and over.

The play opens with Tommy returning from a late night search for crisps with a bruised and bloodied girl named Aimee (Anjanette Hall) in tow. Her story is that she was hitchhiking and the man who picked her up attacked her. Tommy has taken Aimee back to the house so she can get cleaned and patched up. Maurice discovers Aimee and, although he has misgivings, lets her stay. Maurice lost his wife three years before in an accident; Maurice blames himself for her death and tries to drown his depression in alcohol.

Tommy is in his fifties and divorced, with two teenage children he is trying to help his ex-wife raise by phone. Tommy sees Aimee as a fresh start that will give him an excuse to leave this crushingly depressing life. We soon find that Aimee is not what she claims. She is in fact a part time prostitute and it was her boyfriend/pimp Kenneth (Val Kozlenko) who beat her up. As we soon see, Kenneth is a psychopath who can turn violent at any moment.

Although appearing to suffer from some type of mental slowness, Doc tries his best to understand life around him. He also provides the bulk of the comedy relief in this play. At one point he talks about the theory of black holes where everything sucked into them would become trapped in time, much like their lives have become. He also shares with Tommy and Aimee snippets from a book titled How To Survive Life Threatening Situations that gives such advice as, "Chapter One: Surviving a Gun Attack ... If your assailant is firing directly at you, try to move away and as soon as you can turn a corner." Of all the characters, Doc is the most metaphysically tuned in.

Tommy, on the other hand, is searching for a stable relationship that will bring purpose to his troubled existence. He allows Aimee into his life hoping that she will be "the one" even though he has to pay her for sex and companionship. In the end, all she brings to the "relationship" is betrayal, theft, physical violence and death. The ending of the play may fuel a good bit of discussion amongst theatregoers.

The physical properties of the production are top notch. The stage set consists of mismatched furnishings haphazardly positioned among the piles of trash. The lighting is especially on point, setting the tone for each scene. Double doors lead to a garden wall that adds an authentic look. Even the meter box on the wall is authentic. There is also a kitchenette strewn with dishes, food containers, boxes, and a working sink. A great amount of work goes into the setting up of props across the stage.

As Tommy, Joel Hammer brings a look of resignation and acceptance of his fate as Tommy tries to make it through life the best way he can. You will find yourself sighing right along with him. David Peacock's Doc works hard as Tommy's only friend, supporting him in any way he can by being his sounding board, friend, workmate and companion. His little comic bits are priceless and it's easy to truly feel bad for him when he suffers.

Robert Hawkes takes the minor role of Maurice and enlarges it solely with his talent. From his Irish brogue to the delivery of the colorful language, he is the real deal. Val Kozlenko is absolutely terrifying as Kenneth, as he wreaks havoc on everyone he comes in contact with. Anjanette Hall's Aimee starts out all innocent but when forced into telling the truth changes her demeanor completely, becoming the fallen angel.

This production contains adult themes, adult language, and an extra helping of violence. Those sensitive to such situations are advised to stay home.

While extremely well done, The Night Alive seems to falter at the end, and some plot points are cloudy, most likely intentionally.

The Night Alive by Conor McPherson, at Dobama Theatre in Cleveland Heights through February 12, 2017. Show times are Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm To purchase tickets by phone, call (216) 932-3396 or online by going to http://www.dobama.org.


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