Last night, Round House Theatre premiered their second play of the season, The Night Alive. As always, I read up on the play before attending, but no amount of research could have prepared me for the event I witnessed. Brilliant acting and clever writing made for a memorable theatrical experience.
Written by Conor McPherson and directed by Ryan Rilette, The Night Alive follows Tommy (Edward Gero) as he tries to save Aimee (Katie Debuys). This act merely begins with Tommy’s offer of shelter to a woman in need, but over the course of the play, Tommy faces choices that become far larger and life altering. With his best friend Doc (Gregory Linington) pulling him towards one path and his caring, but intrusive landowner Maurice (Michael Tolaydo) trying to push him towards another, Tommy must figure out how to best help not only Aimee, but in the end himself.
McPherson offers a witty script that Rilette beautifully brings to life through well-timed pacing. The play is full of dark humor that kept the audience laughing throughout; however, part of the brilliance of the script was that McPherson would often undercut these humorous scenes with a heartwarming moment.
A fantastic example involved Doc, Aimee, and Tommy sitting around a table enjoying some chips. Doc began reading from a book entitled How To Escape Life Threatening Situations, which Linington highlighted with spot-on comedic timing. The audience was cracking up as Doc explained how the best method of avoiding an assailant is to turn around and run in the opposite direction, but then the scene took a turn. They turned on the radio and the three characters began dancing together. Rilette cleverly began the sequence with the three characters dancing on their own, and then slowly brought them together through synchronized choreography. The scene was still funny, but also offered a moment of genuine happiness for the characters. The chemistry between the actors pushed the scene over the top and made it a joy to watch unfold.
McPherson’s script not only mastered the wit, but also begged some thought provoking questions about what it means to live a fulfilling and happy life, moments that Rilette heightened through his staging. One particular moment showcased Aimee waking from a bad dream and Tommy attempting to comfort her. The two eventually transitioned from a conversation about Aimee’s nightmare to a discussion on suicide, and how there could be positives and negatives to the act. As the discussion became deeper and the two began sharing more honest memories of having serious suicidal thoughts, Rilette made an interesting staging choice. While Tommy and Aimee began sitting next to each other on a bed, as they increased the honesty, the two moved farther apart to opposite sides of the stage. As the characters grew closer, they physically moved apart. The choice created an intriguing stage picture that emphasized the difficulty in sharing these memories.
Meghan Raham’s impressively detailed set helped Rilette heighten these moments. Tommy’s room within Maurice’s home took up the stage, and included details ranging from an overflowing suitcase of clothes to two unmade, cheap beds, and garbage resting on every surface. The set was striking, and even helped with the comedy. For example, when Tommy first brought Aimee into his home and she went to use the bathroom, he rushed about trying, and failing, to clean up the empty Chinese food containers and dozens of wrappers that were taking up the stage.
As a whole, Rilette and the Round House Theatre team did an exemplary job in pulling together an ensemble of actors who worked well together in bringing the text to life.
Michael Tolaydo showcased a Maurice that was impossible not to love. Maurice is a character that cannot help but intervene in the affairs of the other characters, but the fact that he is so clearly haunted by the aftermath of past choices makes him sympathetic. Tolaydo beautifully tackled that complexity in his portrayal.
Joseph Carlson provided a creepy and unsettling air to the role of Kenneth. Kenneth has a constant need to maintain power over the other characters, and Carlson brought this characteristic to life through finding ways to intrude upon the personal space of others.
Carlson provided an interesting contrast to Katie Debuys’ approach to Aimee. This character has been through a lot in her life, and though Debuys mastered the haunted and terrified aspects of the character, she also brought a sense of humor. The comedic scenes between Debuys, Gero, and Linington were a joy to watch unfold as the three actors played off each other with spot-on comedic timing.
Gero and Linington as Tommy and Doc create wonderful characters on their own, but they also showcase a relationship that I was excited to see grow in each of their scenes together. Tommy constantly feels a need to look out for Doc, who is youthful and fun. They were best friends, and the stage chemistry between Gero and Linington is incredible.
McPherson begged questions that I continued to think over well into the next morning.
Witty, emotional, and thought-provoking, The Night Alive is a production that should not be missed.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.