This past season, Conor McPherson received torrents of praise — from this writer included — for his most traditional work to date, The Seafarer (one of this year’s Tony nominees for Best Play). Since the young Irish scribe had made his name as a monologist (The Weir, This Lime Tree Bower, St. Nicholas), it was a thrill to see him go beyond his comfort zone with a full-length, two-act play, a tense spiritual drama laced with a surprising amount of light-hearted comic banter.
Seeing the seven-year-old Port Authority, then, is a bit like stepping into a theatrical time machine. It’s old-school McPherson — guys standing around telling stories. Truth be told, not much happens. But it reminds me why I fell in love with McPherson’s plays in the first place: the raw, muscular language; the unapologetically flawed characters; their delicate, thinly drawn connections.
Port Authority presents three Dubliners. Kevin (John Gallagher Jr.) is around 20, has just left his parents’ place (”Moving out was like pretending to make a decision”), and is shacking up with a couple of mates, including Speedy (”It was like he was excited by being bored”) and his dream girl, Clare. Middle-aged, mustachioed Dermot (Brian d’Arcy James) has just been plucked from his loveless marriage and mindless occupation and plunged into an Armani-wearing, cocaine-snorting, champagne-drinking, rock-and-roll world, where he’s getting by on sheer guts and G&Ts. (Of a drunken dinner party: ”The controllers in your head…are filing this moment away under Moronic Moments to Relive Again and Again.”) And 70-ish widower Joe (Jim Norton, a 2008 Tony nominee for The Seafarer) is eking out a comfortable existence in a retirement home, until an unexpected package sends his still-razor-sharp mind reeling back to a past perceived emotional betrayal.
Though Port Authority was quite captivating in London in 2001, it has improved exponentially. This cast, though, could hardly be bettered. Norton, the only holdover from the West End, has made his Joe less doddering, more contemplative. Gallagher (a Tony winner for his angst-ridden teen in Spring Awakening) is positively heartbreaking as he resignedly recounts his tale of unrequited love. But James has the juiciest material: His Dermot is pathetic, pitiable, comedic, eye-rollingly idiotic…even his modified mullet gets laughs. James has never been better. Neither, coincidentally, has McPherson. (Tickets: 212-279-4200 or TicketCentral.com) A