In Conor McPherson’s Port Authority, now receiving a deft production at the Irish Rep’s temporary Union Square home, the playwright presents three men, each at a different stage in his life, and each struggling with the task of understanding himself.
The three characters share the stage for the entire production, but they are uninterested in each other. The only concern of each man is the telling of his story. It’s a similar set-up to McPherson’s earlier This Lime Tree Bower, with each man telling a portion of his story before ceding stage time to the next man to tell a portion of his, and so on.
As each monologue takes shape, we learn of the very faint connections between the three men, and come to understand how each is wrestling with similar psychological turmoil.
Kevin (James Russell) is in his late teens or early twenties, Dermot (Billy Carter) in his late thirties or early forties, and McPherson’s script lists Joe (Peter Maloney) as being “seventy-odd.” Although the details of their stories are quite different, the essence is the same: each wonders about their position in life vis-à-vis the love (or potential love) of a particular woman. For Kevin that woman is a close friend with whom there may or may not be romantic sparks. Dermot agonizes over his faith and his duty to the wife whose physical appearance embarrasses him. The woman in Joe’s life is a long-ago potential flame, a married neighbor with whom he and his wife were friendly. Joe has never been certain that either he or the other woman were married to the right person.
None of these stories comes to a resolution: Kevin and Joe are too young and too old to demand such a thing, and Dermot only wallows deeper into his own self-loathing. But Port Authority is not just about the narrative arc of these stories or even their thematic interplay, it’s also about the performative experience of storytelling. For McPherson’s characters, both here and in his other plays, there is something therapeutic—or at least relieving—about unburdening themselves of their stories. There is a sense throughout that the audience plays a crucial role in this process. These men need to get more than a few things off their chests, and we need to be there to enable that.
On a very small stage with a sparse but effective set, and under the direction of Ciaran O’Reilly, the three actors creatre three distinct portraits of turmoil. Carter, who anchored the Irish Rep’s last McPherson production, does well in what might be the play’s most demanding role. Kevin and Joe have the convenience of age to assuage some of their struggles, but Dermot does not—he is middle aged, married with a child, struggling to make a career and provide for his family—so his self-loathing extends to the guilt of struggling in his role as a father and husband; Carter captures the highs and lows of Dermot’s mercurial story. Maloney and Russell also shine in roles that demand more nuance. expressing the struggle inherent within their characters.