The Night Alive — Image courtesy The Jungle Theater

The Night Alive

Jungle Theater
Directed by Joel Sass

In drama, we are accustomed to a certain level of character development. We, the audience, observe as one or more protagonists are confronted by events that force them to become different sorts of people than they were previously. But in Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive — currently playing at the Jungle Theater — something a little bit different happens. The play’s protagonist, Tommy (Stephen Yoakam), doesn’t change much. Rather, it is our perception of him that changes, as we come to see him as the person he has been all along.

The first thing that is obvious about Tommy is that he is a slob. In the faded Edwardian drawing room that he rents from his uncle Maurice (Martin Ruben) as a living space, his disarrayed furniture and personal effects share space with trash bags that he’s never bothered to take out. His lot in life also seems to be a bit of a mess; he is divorced and rarely gets to see his two children, and he makes his living doing odd jobs with his van and his none-too-bright friend Doc (Patrick Bailey). But despite all this, over the course of the play, Tommy emerges as the moral center and beacon of stability in his own universe of misfits.

The catalyst who provides Tommy with an opportunity to demonstrate his character is Aimee (Sara Richardson), a prostitute whom Tommy finds bloodied in the street one night as he goes out for fish and chips. Once he gets Aimee cleaned up, seeing that she has nowhere to go, Tommy invites her to stay with him. In the meanwhile, Doc gets kicked out of his sister’s house — not for the first time — and Maurice sinks deeper and deeper into depression. And then, as Tommy attempts to balance his obligations toward all of those who have somehow become dependent upon him, the menacing figure of Kenneth (Tyson Forbes) — Aimee’s ex-boyfriend and pimp — arrives on the scene.

Tommy’s innate optimism and awkward compassion can only get him and his friends so far, but watching them get even that far is a pleasure. Yoakam, who has obviously put a lot of thought into the character, reveals his weaknesses and strengths subtly and slowly over time. The remainder of the cast also does an insightful job with their characters, and as always at the Jungle, the set is a work of art, with plenty of meticulous detail hidden in the seemingly random mess. By the time the play reaches its ambiguous conclusion, plenty has been left unresolved, but the picture McPherson has drawn for us somehow still seems complete. The Night Alive is on stage at the Jungle through Dec. 20.

Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.