Port Authority

Decadent Theatre Co presents 'Port Authority' by Conor McPherson.

Decadent Theatre Co presents 'Port Authority' by Conor McPherson.

Decadent Theatre Co presents 'Port Authority' by Conor McPherson.

Decadent Theatre Co presents 'Port Authority' by Conor McPherson.

Decadent Theatre Co presents 'Port Authority' by Conor McPherson.

Decadent Theatre Co presents 'Port Authority' by Conor McPherson.

“The past is over,” Dermot (Phelim Drew) informs the audience towards the end of his monologue in Decadent’s new production of Conor McPherson’s Port Authority. It’s a bold and seemingly foolhardy riposte to that old William Faulkner chestnut – “the past is never dead, it’s not even past”. Yet for Dermot, Kevin and Joe, the three broken men who populate McPherson’s play, it is a statement with a literal ring of truth. Delivering their individual narratives from a sort of purgatorial memory chamber, these men are far beyond redemption, even if the past looms as large as a tidal wave.

The towering desperation, of both a quiet and loud variety, that defines McPherson’s play gives Port Authority a contemporaneous resonance even if it was first produced in 2001, long before the millstone of endless debt was cast around the nation’s neck. In fact, there is almost something refreshing in the plights and failures that McPherson conceives here, as they have no burden to be representative of the collapse of the nation, just mere instances of human folly (albeit uniquely Irish follies): Dermot is hired for a job which he is not qualified to do; Joe (Garrett Keogh) is haunted by his lifelong fixation with his married next door neighbour; Kevin (Carl Kennedy) aimlessly pursues the affection of a woman named Claire on the Dublin rock scene.

The characters share a stage though they have little in common bar a few coincidences, a fondness for drink and a familiarity with that dolourous sea-facing sliver that runs north from Clontarf up as far as Howth, a place McPherson returns to often in his work. Last year, Andrew Flynn and Decadent produced McPherson’s more recent work The Seafarer (2006), another work featuring likeable losers trundling through a whiskey-soaked haze in Baldoyle. Despite the overt similarities in the subject matter, the two plays couldn’t be more formally divergent. Unlike the sitting room cluttered with empties and ephemera in The Seafarer, Flynn’s vision of Port Authority is a sort of magisterial minimalism, with a stage featuring four wooden benches arranged in a square, and timber floor beams. The set could double as a Scandinavian sauna or a Buddhist retreat centre. The actors stand to deliver a snippet of their monologue before returning to the benches and to a statuesque pose.

McPherson gives us hapless Irish man in his three stages of maturation – youth, middle age and old age. The rudderless Kevin, played with a breezy laddishness by Kennedy, plods through pints, rock gigs and women in pursuit of… nothing much. Dermot, the biggest loser of the bunch, gets all of the best lines, and Drew delivers them with a defeated vigour. Sprung accidentally into a job for which he has no qualification for, his life unravels while knee-deep in a St Patrick’s Day cocaine binge with his new colleagues in Los Angeles, only to discover an odd sort of salvation in the arms of a pitying wife back in Dublin. McPherson clearly has the most empathy for the ageing widower Joe, seeing out his days in a Church-run nursing home and still reckoning with his disproportionate ardour for a deceased neighbour he hardly knew. Keogh clutched a tissue at various stages of the production, and it was hard to know if this prop was given to him as representation of vulnerability, or if the actor was simply struggling with an autumn cold. It was a small object, but provided a fascinating window into the death-facing insecurity that Keogh so effectively conveyed.

The monologue is by definition a solitary form though there is something formally stilted in how these stories are told. Mike O’Halloran’s lighting aimed at enhancing the cathartic moments, while Flynn succeeds in extracting the humour and sliver of light in these characters, even if it is difficult to escape the despair near the heart of this play. These are men content to be shaped by the women in their lives, who’ve all but renounced steering their own fate. Revelation comes to these men in doses large and small – but as the last lines of Port Authority show, self-awareness is not necessarily a clarion call to action. All in all, the power of this production is in its ability to make the simple act of human endurance seem like something noble and worthwhile.

Donald Mahoney

  • Review
  • Theatre

Port Authority by Conor McPherson

(on tour)

Produced by Decadent Theatre Company
In DraĆ­ocht

Directed by Andrew Flynn

Costume Design: Petra Breathnach

Lighting Design: Mike O’Halloran

Sound Design: Carl Kennedy

With: Carl Kennedy, Phelim Drew, Garrett Keogh


Touring to: 6 Nov - An Grianan Letterkenny; 7 Nov - The Dock Carrick-On-Shannon; 8 Nov - Dunamaise Arts Centre, Port Laoise; 9/10 Nov - Ramor Theatre, Virginia; 13 Nov - Backstage Theatre, Longford; 14/15 Nov - Siamsa Tire, Tralee; 18-20 Nov - Everyman, Cork; 21-23 Nov - Belltable, Limerick.