Night Alive is luminescent at SPTC
by Jim Spencer & Shirley Lorraine
Once again the Santa Paula Theater Center (SPTC) brings a new level of theater to Ventura County with its current production of The Night Alive, a New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award winning play for 2013-14.
Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s gripping and surprisingly amusing tale of the intertwining lives of five imperfect Irish people holds the audience in suspension for nearly two hours without an intermission. To have had one would have broken the spell and the flow for both actors and audience.
Veteran director and SPTC Artistic Director David Ralphe cites McPherson as one of his favorite playwrights, for his insights and soul-searching characters.
The members of the immensely talented cast consisting of Taylor Kasch (Tommy), Jessi May Stevenson (Aimee), Ron Feltner (Doc), Brian Harris (Ken) and Cecil Sutton (Maurice) pour their souls into the piece, interpreting McPherson’s words, as their characters mentally stumble about seeking an order in their chaotic lives that they never quite achieve as situations continue to change.
The ensemble highlights isolated zones of idiosyncrasies, each character existing in the same physical space but on a different mental plane. Each is splintered by personal circumstances that ebb and flow at a moment’s notice. Somehow they amplify the tenuous nature that is daily life.
Kasch leads the action as Tommy, a divorced, down-and-out handyman. He sets the tone with his Irish phrasing which gives even the abundant cursing a certain pleasing lilt to the ear. The piece is fraught with wording uncommon to us, although seemingly natural to the actors.
Kasch’s interactions with the slightly disadvantaged Doc, played to perfection by Ron Feltner, are a study in tenderness, friendship and loyalty. Doc is a disheveled character, both inside and out, who struggles to maintain a semblance of normality.
Through a random occurrence, their lives are changed by Aimee (Stevenson) in many ways. Adrift and needy as the others, Aimee’s broken existence becomes just one more piece of the group’s puzzling dynamics.
Upstairs lives Maurice (Sutton), Tommy’s crusty uncle who himself is seeking some kind of peace and order. Under his seemingly sour facade he harbors a soft center that shines through in the end.
The stone in the gears that move these lives forward comes in the form of Ken (Harris), a threatening force whose brief intrusion is akin to a fast-moving tornado, leaving destruction and confusion in his wake. His presence causes momentary damage that is ultimately easily dismissed as if it never happened. Life goes on.
While the piece itself presents only a minimally satisfying resolution, the exemplary staging and performances throughout are simply mesmerizing. Each of the actors, individually and as an ensemble, make this a powerful piece of theater. Kudos to SPTC and David Ralphe for expanding the awareness of Ventura County audiences.
The Night Alive plays Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through October 2, 2016. Santa Paula Theatre Center, 125 S. Seventh Street, Santa Paula. Reservations are recommended. 525-9840 or www.santapaulatheatercenter.org. Adults $20, Seniors and Students $18. Mature themes and strong language.