Helen Sadler and Francis Guinan in "The Night Alive" at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Set design is by Todd Rosenthal. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Steppenwolf Theatre, the Chicago playhouse that has a knack for birthing hit plays, some of which have gone on to Broadway runs and Tony wins, just opened "The Night Alive," by Irish playwright Conor McPherson.

I saw the production in previews in September, and can't wait for the play to arrive in the Twin Cities. The Jungle Theater, which has produced such other McPherson plays as "The Seafarer" (2009) and "Shining City (2007), would be great home for this darkly amusing meditation on violence, mortality, charity, friendship, illusion and dreams deferred.

As directed at Steppenwolf by Henry Fishcamper (who is a resident artistic associate at Chicago's Goodman Theatre), "The Night Alive" takes place in the extremely messy, bare bones rented room of Tommy (Francis Guinan, marvelous), whose landlord Uncle Marice is played by veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh.

One night, Tommy, one of the most lovable losers ever to have graced a stage, brings home Aimee (Helen Sadler), a young woman who has taken a beating. Their growing relationship plays out alongside Tommy's dim sidekick Doc (Tim Hopper), Maurice, and a malevolent Kenneth (Dan Waller).

While the action and plot are wonderfully grounded in quotidian detail -- dented cups of tea, piles of dirty laundry, a travel poster of Finland -- the script leaves open the possibility of multiple metaphoric interpretations. This became abundantly clear in the post-play discussion with Steppenwolf's Martha Lavey and Fishcamper, which raised more questions about the play than were conveniently answered.

Chicago critics praised the play as "raw and beautiful" (Tribune) and said Guinan is "just about perfect as Tommy." (Reader).

"The Night Alive" continues at Steppenwolf through Nov. 16.

Francis Guinan, M. Emmet Walsh and Tim Hopper in Steppenwolf's "The Night Alive," by Conor McPherson. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Older Post

Oct. 1: Prince snubs fans in Yahoo webcast, Facebook Q&A

Newer Post

'The Nance,' starring Nathan Lane, coming to PBS