Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Shipping ports worldwide are governed by rules of access: regulating who can dock and who cannot; who can ship to and from and who cannot; who has authority to enter and exit and who does not. Unlike those ports of call, the three men in Conor McPherson’s 2001 “Port Authority” have no control of their “ports.” These are men to whom things happen, not men who initiate action. They sometimes believe they are in control of their lives and it is just at those moments the grim specter of reality visits with the announcement that they are really only “pretending to make a decision”.
Kevin (James Russell), Dermot (Billy Carter), and Joe (Peter Maloney) sit on benches somewhere in Dublin, Ireland and tell stories – they are not in the same space at the same time – about themselves and their inability to effectively manage their lives. Mr. McPherson indicates the play is set “in the theatre” so each speaker is addressing the audience directly in his monologue.
Kevin tries to move out of his parents’ house to find his own way. His is the story of a twenty-something Irish lad who wants nothing more than make a deep connection with Clare who shares the flat with him and mates Davy and Speedy. But that does not work. Clare is a fighter and Kevin is not and their souls simply do not mix. Kevin: “And I was thinking that maybe there isn’t a soul for every person in the world. Maybe there’s just two. One for people who go with the flow, and one for all the people who fight.” Kevin has no fight in him – never has and never will.
Thirty-something Dermot (Billy Carter), unfulfilled in his marriage to Mary, thinks he has landed a new job with a prestigious firm and shares his story of victory with a bravado that often grabs the audience at some primal core. Dermot has weaknesses that might temper his success: alcohol and women. But these seem not to bother boss O’Hagan who flies Dermot form Ireland to LA to attend a Banger’s concert forgiving his indiscretions until he discovers he’s hired the wrong Dermot. Tail between legs, Dermot flies back home to Mary and kids and is made to bear a fusillade of truth that is beyond humbling. His wife says it best. Mary (Dermot’s Wife): “But I chose you Dermot. I took you because I knew you’d always need someone to look after you. And I always will.”
As do the other two, Joe’s (Peter Maloney) story begins in the present and revisits events from the past which bring him to his present emotional and spiritual state. This seventy-something man shares the story of his unrequited love and the guilt he has lived with since knowing how he felt about his neighbor Marion when they first met many years ago. His memories intensify when he receives a package containing the photo of Marion he almost stole from her home after they first met. Joe’s story perhaps resonates most with the audience: he often directs his comments to those in the first row. Joe: “Thinking about regret and worry. And when you get to my age, you give up on them because they don’t help anything. And you generally get tired of regret. And you’re usually just whacked out from worry.”
Under Ciarán O’Reilly’s careful direction, Billy Carter, Peter Maloney, and James Russell portray three men of different generations caught in webs of longing and loneliness unable to “move on” though they claim “the past is over “and unable to escape the censure of the superego. Perhaps Dermot expresses it most poignantly: “But the controllers in your head who are telling you that you have to live with your future self are filing this moment away under Moronic Moments To Relive Again And Again.”
It is tempting to allow the stories of these three men take on epic or metaphorical status, somehow paralleling the rise and fall of Ireland or America. But these stories are about the struggles of the ‘everyman’ working for the good. Dermot manages best to evaluate the efficacy of such struggles: “Don’t try to work anything out. Because you don’t know – and you never will. And even if you do, it’ll be too late to do anything about it anyway.” Dermot’s complaint is the complaint of humankind caught between an existential void and a nagging nihilism. “Port Authority” captures the essence of that void with authenticity and stark believability.