May 30, 2008

Back to One

John Gallagher Jr., Jim Norton, and Brian d'Arcy James in Port Authority. (Photo by Doug Hamilton)

It's been a week since I saw Conor McPherson's new play Port Authority, and superlatives still fail me. I've seen nearly everything he's written, and I guess since I haven't loved all of his work--I found Shining City and The Seafarer involving, suggestive, not altogether satisfying in sum--I neglected to notice that he has slowly but surely become one of my favorite playwrights. His is not a bravura talent, like Tracy Letts' or Tony Kushner's, nor a matter of craft and stylization, as with Frayn or Mamet or Pinter. McPherson's is a unique voice, in fact--he's a consummate monologuist, like his countryman Brian Friel, but he's better than Friel, who's a bit twee and whiny to my ear.

Actually, McPherson puts me in mind of the great Irish poets more than his fellow dramatists, and yet not because his language is frilly or "poetic," but because there's a rhythm, an economy, even in his digressions, that hones in with ruthless acuity on the sort of epiphanous, crystalline moments of insight that are the stock in trade of poets more than playwrights. Not all of his metaphorical rhymes and synchronicities convince--in Port Authority, the three men turn out to be related, but it means next to nothing to the play's impact--but McPherson regularly pulls off the kind of this-is-what-it-all-means reverie that too many writers reach for and almost none achieve.

Port Authority also represents a return to form: His first play, This Lime Tree Bower, was also a triple monologue, and though The Weir is pretty great shakes, I think McPherson is a playwright whose talents are stubbornly rooted in the kind of storytelling only a monologue can deliver. In short, don't let this one slip away.

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