Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Night's Alive with Menace
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Rob's reviews of Stage Kiss and The Seagull

Caitlin Aase and Bruce Holmes
Photo by Harrison C. Sim
The Night Alive by Conor McPherson is pure Irish theater, funny and violent, funny and tragic. The play made a decent splash when it appeared a couple years ago in London, and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play of 2013-2014. A number of McPherson's plays have been staged in Albuquerque over his 20-year career, including The Seafarer by the Mother Road Theatre Company as part of the Southwest Irish Theater Festival in 2012. While he is known for inserting the supernatural in his plays, spirits are at a minimum in The Night Alive.

The play opens in Tommy's (Bruce Holmes) disheveled apartment. He sees a young woman outside beaten badly by her boyfriend and invites her inside. Aimee (Caitlin Aase) decides to stay as she recovers from her injuries. Tommy discovers she's a prostitute, but so much the better.

Tommy's life is going nowhere. He lives in a room in his alcoholic uncle's (John Dennis Johnston) house and scrapes by doing odd jobs with his friend Doc (Michael Samuel Kaplan), a ne'er do well with mental problems. Tommy is estranged from his ex-wife and two children. Aimee's appearance gives him a jolt of potential romance and new possibilities. But this is an Irish play, not Neil Simon, so we don't expect things to turn out well.

Things take a downward turn when Aimee's boyfriend Kenneth (Matthew Van Wettering) arrives at the apartment while Tommy and Aimee are out. Doc is there, and Kenneth goes after him with a hammer. From there, things get dark and complicated.

Director Jacqueline Reid keeps the action fast and engaging. The production is strong and confident beginning to end. This is the second solid production in a row for Reid, as she directed Disgraced at the Cell last month. Holmes as the hapless-but-enthusiastic Tommy is better than ever, and he's always wonderful. Kaplan is convincing as the stumbling Doc, and Aase handles the Aimee well. Johnston does good teetering work with the drunken uncle Maurice. Wettering is absolutely menacing as Kenneth. It's one-speed role—hot and mean—and Wettering raises the energy to scary powerful.

A couple of cheers for notable aspects of this play. The conversation between Tommy and Doc on "waves of time" is hilarious. And Tommy's beat-up apartment is almost its own character. Looks like credit goes to producer Dennis Gromelski. Also, the music is great throughout. I think credit goes to Reid, but perhaps also Gromelski and sound designer Brent Stevens. Fusion consistently gets music just right.

The ending is a bit mystifying. We can understand what has happened to Aimee. Her outcome seemed inevitable. But it's hard to tell what's up with Tommy. While all of the events of the story make perfect sense given the nature of the characters, Tommy's fate is confusing—a strange end to a powerful production.

A strange thing happened to me at the end of the performance. When the actors were taking their bows, they still seemed like their characters. Normally, it's easy to make the transition from watching characters to seeing the actors once the action is over. Usually I never forget they're actors all through the play. So, a tip of the hat to the actors and to Reid's direction that the illusion was strong enough to sustain once the action concluded.

The Night Alive by Conor McPherson is directed by Jacqueline Reid for Fusion. The pay runs at the Cell Theatre, 700 1st. St. NW, Thursdays through Sundays, ending on Saturday, November 21. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances begin at 8:00 pm. There is a Saturday afternoon performance at 2:00 pm. On Sunday, November 22, there will be a performance at the Kimo Theatre at 6:00 pm. Adults are $40. Seniors and students are $35. The KiMo Theatre performance is Pay What You Wish. For reservations, go to or call 505-766-9412.

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