The wheel of life spins every day of your mundane existence and then one night it lands on your number.
Conor McPherson uses the twist of fate, kismet, happenstance, whatever you wish to call it, for his jumping-off point in "The Night Alive," now in its regional premiere at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis.
The Irish playwright catches the voice of the dispossessed as well as any writer working today. His heroes are lads and lasses in varying degrees of desperation who endure simply because the alternative is an early date with death.
A Jungle patron gauged "The Night Alive" about right as we all walked away Saturday night. "I liked it, but I'm not sure what really happened." Yes, that is McPherson. The joy of his plays is his ear for naturalism in dialogue, his sharp observation of character, an economical understanding of daily life and a confidence in his ambiguity.
This makes the 100 minutes of "The Night Alive" quite enjoyable even if McPherson gives us less to chew on in this squib than he has in other plays, such as "The Seafarer" and "Shining City."
Director Joel Sass' production revolves around Tommy (Stephen Yoakam), a Dubliner estranged from his family and living at midlife in a shabby room of his uncle's home (Sass' usual fine design).
One night Tommy brings home Aimee (Sara Richardson), whose bloodied face reflects another incident in her risky life. She stays for a few days with Tommy, whose best mate, Doc (Patrick Bailey), and his benefactor uncle Maurice (Martin Ruben) wander through with their business. On two occasions, Kenneth (Tyson Forbes) knifes his way through with a flash of menace.
Yoakam is simply grand as Tommy. His rescue of Aimee is the result of his decency and his loneliness. Even in his cheeriest moments — such as when he, Doc and Aimee dance to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" — Yoakam's Tommy wears a sadness behind his eyes. We wish the best for him, and this always has been McPherson's great strength — sympathy for his characters.
Bailey's Doc is a happy-go-lucky sort, despite not having a place to sleep every night and a big shiner on his left eye. He is happy to be alive.
Ruben has the perfect look for Maurice, a wrung-out dishrag on death's door. Ruben nicely threads the needle to make Maurice cranky rather than bitter.
The less said about Kenneth the better — given his role in the plot — but suffice to say Forbes makes it impossible to get this evil wraith out of mind. Sass lets Richardson get away with too much manner in her performance of the off-center Aimee. She looks slightly out of place amid the realism.
McPherson has written (and we hope will again write) better plays than "The Night Alive." For the moment, though, this is what we've got and it's worth a look.