The Night Alive
Through Feb. 25
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, Raleigh

It can be a good thing when a set triggers flashbacks before a show begins. Prior to the first light cue in Honest Pint Theatre’s The Night Alive, designer Thomas Mauney’s squalid little flat took me back to the Hotel New Hampshire. No, not the edifice in the famous John Irving novel, but the crash pad of preference to which my friends gave the same name in my undergrad days. The random decor, rundown furniture, and slovenly housekeeping was similar, down to the black garbage bags holding clean laundry and other home provisions as often as actual trash.

The similarities only grew as playwright Conor McPherson’s drama unfolded. If there was an uneasy, underlying vibe of economic instability in both rooms, there was also genuine hospitality. The crew in both locations could almost always hustle up enough pocket change for food from the corner shop, and if one ate or drank, all did.

At this distance, it’s easier now for me to recognize that, as in The Night Alive, our self-styled clubhouse also gave imperfect and temporary shelter to a colony of broken people, exploring the possibilities—and the limitations—of imagination, sex, anesthesia, detox, and reinvention.

But a culture that excuses this, to varying degrees, in its teenagers and early twenty-somethings views the matter very differently when folks are still fumbling in their forties and fifties. That’s the case with Tommy and Doc, two marginal types scrounging their way through a series of odd jobs in present-day Dublin. Tommy (John Allore) is the dodgy senior partner, a bit of a chiseler who’s scraped together the flat we see out of a spare room in his bitter uncle Maurice’s house. The neurodivergent Doc (David Henderson) is willing to put up with Tommy’s fast-talking ways and given to unlikely yet accurate insights.

When she falls into Tom’s life, Aimee Clement (Samantha Corey) is visibly damaged—a sex worker with a bloody nose, on the run from her abusive boyfriend, the also-hurt Kenneth (Sean Brosnahan). It will hardly surprise McPherson fans when the playwright keeps reminding us that the mundane level on which these imperfect characters speak and act thinly disguises the depths directly beneath. Immediately after Maurice (Mark Phialas) sneers at him, Doc, a character not previously given to spiritual scholarship, poses the rejoinder from the book of Matthew that once silenced the Pharisees: “What think ye of Christ?”

Another improbable subject, quantum physics, intrudes upon this hardscrabble crew. But the oddest topic taken up, in the script and this production, is grace. By its end, McPherson and director Susannah Hough make quite clear just how broken these five people are. Indeed, like the denizens of my one-time hotel, they do not always play well with one another; sooner or later, grief, greed, alienation, and fear all darken the common ground on which they stand.

But through its problematic end, The Night Alive keeps posing variations of the same question: What are the odds? How unlikely is it that black holes exist in the first place? Is it more or less unlikely that a God who created them also exists? What are the chances that humans as shattered as these—as us—would find any grace, any mercy among one another? And are these probabilities somehow linked?

Such questions could keep a body up all night, alive. They’re as much worth entertaining as this thought-provoking production.