Three Guys Walk onto a Non-Metaphorical Dock: Quotidian Theatre’s “Port Authority”

Port Authority

James Flanagan, Steve Beall, and Steve LaRocque in Quotidian's Port Authority.

Conor McPherson’s unshowily devastating three-hander Port Authority is stocked with premises that are, summarized in their most reductive forms, utterly familiar: I Love Her But She Loves Someone Else, I Loved Her But the Flame Has Cooled, I Loved Her But She Died. So it’s a credit to McPherson’s humane, observant pen — and to the three adept actors who illuminate his material in Quotidian Theatre‘s local premiere of his 2001 play — that even when nothing much is happening, it feels like everything’s at stake.

Like so many other contemporary dramas out of Ireland, Port Authority is a tale told in cross-cut monologues. The trio presented here come from Dublin lads aged 20ish, 50ish, and 80ish. As we meet them, the young guy has just split from his parents’ house to move in with friends, the middle-ager has unexpectedly won a plum job and matching lifestyle upgrade, and the old man is a recent widower. Each narrator gives us a portion of his story — linked to the other two circumstantially, or perhaps not at all — until a bell rings, and he takes a seat as the next man resumes his account.

Though McPherson stirs in a few red herrings vis-a-vis how these stories may intersect, the only certain commonality is that they all begin and end in Dublin. The epiphanies here are like atoms, miraculous for their smallness and ubiquity. McPherson knows that insight is more likely to arrive in the frozen food aisle than on a mountaintop, and that wherever we are, we experience these shattering moments privately.

The title has no apparent connection to the content, nor does the too-literal manifestation it gets in director/designer Jack Sbarbori’s set. He parks the cast on a dock outfitted with life preservers, signs warning of “Deep Water,” and lighting that evokes waves of surf.

Happily, every other element of the production rings true, particularly, again, Sbarbori’s astute casting. As Kevin, the boy being murdered in increments by the tragedy of first love, James Flanagan, has a beguiling ability to play about seven emotions at once. Steve Beall has so much fun with middle-aged Dermot’s shrugging acceptance of his unaccountable good fortune that when reality comes back to kick him in the stomach as we know it must, it breaks your heart. And Steve LaRocque’s deliberate, suspicious cadences as examines his shame at what amounts to a victimless indiscretion are believably the stuff of a man whose Catholicism has never brought him a moment’s peace.

McPherson’s work has been all over D.C. stages recently. Scena‘s production of his Dublin Carol closed last month, while Studio staged The Seafarer last January and Shining City 14 months before that. Quotidian did its own Dublin Carol only a year ago. Given all that, it’s surprising that Port Authority took so long to find its way here. That it’s arrived in such lovingly curated, brilliantly performed fashion is a happy ending amid a show that otherwise has no use for such dismissive reductionism.

This review appears in today’s Examiner.

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