"Port Authority": McPherson's Elegy on Remorse of the Past

The Remorse Of Three Generations Of Men In One Play
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Just when you are tempted to think that your past is over and done with, a dim reminder will suddenly leap out of nowhere and grab you by the throat. In a beautifully acted revival of Conor McPherson's elegiac play Port Authority at the Irish Repertory Theatre, three men almost a generation apart in age confront their individual remorse.

Under the astute direction of Ciaran O'Reilly, the stories of Kevin, Dermot, and Joe -- rendered with a pitch-perfect ear for the nuances of McPherson's poetic language by James Russell, Billy Carter, and Peter Maloney -- are spun out in alternating monologues that, like any good yarn, are both funny and poignant.

Although totally dissimilar and unknown to one another, each of the trio of men is linked to the others by such nebulous ties as geography and coincidence. They are people to whom things happen, and by the end each will reach not a vindication but a comprehension, and that in itself may bring some comfort.

First up is Kevin, who recounts moving out of his parents' house for the first time to live with two other blokes and a girl named Clare in the Dublin neighborhood of Donnycarney, near the Irish capital's port. Most of Kevin's social circle are punks or wannabe punks, though he disclaims being punk himself, or anything else for that matter.

In Russell's capable hands Kevin is a nice, relatively well-behaved kid who is mates with Davy, one of his new housemates and a member of a local band called, appropriately enough, The Bangers. But it is Clare who captures Kevin's heart.

"Everybody in Dublin was in love with her," Kevin says of Clare, a girl who "wore makeup but you couldn't see it" and who hung out mostly with headbangers. But it is a barmaid named Trish who inveigles her way into Kevin's life and he can only ponder how his friendship with Clare might have taken a different turn, "wondering if... you know."

Dermot is a man who has been out of his depth most of his 30-odd years but has managed to keep self-doubt at bay with a veneer of false bravado and large amounts of gin. In Carter's excellent and animated performance, he recalls how he swaggered toward disaster after landing a job with a top money management firm run by a certain O'Hagan.

He could hardly believe it. At his last job at an auto dealership he hadn't sold a single car, yet here he was in his J.C. Penny blazer shaking hands with men in Armani suits. Asked to a dinner party at O'Hagan's house in Sutton, an upscale area on Dublin's peninsula, Dermot fears his somewhat dumpy wife Mary might embarrass him and he tells her the dinner is for staff only, though wives have been invited.

Along the way he stops to fortify himself with a few gin and tonics, arrives late and drunk, and disgraces himself with his new boss's wife. Fiasco follows fiasco, from Dublin to California, but as repulsive as Dermot's behavior may seem, Carter manages make him almost pitiable as he tells how Mary brings him crashing to earth by recalling their first meeting.

It is Joe, however, who has borne the scars of the past the longest. A widower in his 70's residing in an old-folks home, Joe thought he might have outlived the painful event that has followed him all the intervening years until a little box wrapped in brown paper arrives for him bearing a Dun Laoghaire postmark.

As superbly portrayed by the invaluable Peter Maloney, Joe is at first puzzled as to why anyone would send him a package. "I'm not that popular," he explains. When he finally opens it, he finds an old photograph and a note. He recognizes the picture and he knows what has happened without reading the note.

Joe proceeds to tell about his marriage to his wife, Liz, their first home in Donnycarney before moving to Sutton, and their neighbors there, especially the wife, Marion. The photograph reminds Joe of an episode in his past that in Maloney's expert hands is painful even now to talk about. Joe is insistent that he is just an ordinary guy. "I was always just like everybody else," he says. And he is adamant that "nothing happened" between him and Marion.

But like Kevin and Dermot, whose regrets are from a more recent past, Joe's memories of Marion and the photograph have haunted his life with regret and worry. "But when you get to my age," Joe says, "you give up on them because they don't help anything. You generally get tired of regret. And you're usually just whacked out from worrying."

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