Sensitive performances take center stage in Hyde Park’s ‘The Night Alive’

Conor McPherson’s plays provide fascinating snapshots from the darkest sides of Ireland, and they burst with life and energy. Hyde Park has been taking these plays and turning them into gold for some time now, and with their latest, they bring out one of the most grounded and honest of these productions, in “The Night Alive”. Following a down-on-his-luck Irishman who takes in a mysterious woman after saving her from an altercation, the action in “The Night Alive” seems to grow forth organically from its fully-formed world, brought to life with intricate detail by scenic designer Mark Pickell, with moments of the pain, frivolity, and intimacy that strike hard against the nerves.

It’s hardly rare to see Ken Webster star in a Hyde Park show, but yet, it’s always a delight to see him appear on stage. He has such a presence, bringing such charisma to each performance, and “The Night Alive” is no different. Webster brings a breezy firmness to the role, akin to a “Apartment”-era Fred McMurray, showing an easy charm and warmth while still hiding something more sinister beneath it all. You don’t doubt the authenticity on display, and he carries his brogue better than many of the others. While his performance may never reach the heights they did in his one-man shows, such as “House” or “Saint Nicholas”, he still provides a fine point for the plot to pivot upon.

Hyde Park has found something special in Jess Hughes, who practically stole Hyde Park’s previous production of “The Christians”, winning a Austin Critics’ Table Award for her efforts. Here, we see more of the remarkable sensitivity that made her so captivating in “The Christians”, supplemented this time with a hardened edge. Her character, the mysterious Aimee, comes on the scene with trouble, and Hughes wears it like a glove. The way she holds the tension in her mouth, the way her eyes are cast, a brief chirp or tremble in her brogue, all veil storm clouds on the horizon, heavy water beating against the levy. Even in scenes where she’s letting loose, as in the refreshingly casual scene in which the cast grooves to classic dance tunes, there’s still something guarded about her, which keeps the audience connected in a very palpable way.

“The Night Alive” is not McPherson’s best work, lacking he poetry of “St. Nicholas” or “Port Authority”, but thanks to nuanced, sensitive, and often quite humorous performances from its cast, it’s buoyed into something truly stirring. McPherson and Hyde Park make an amazing fit, and one can only hope that they continue their relationship for many seasons to come.

Photo Courtesy of Bret Brookshire

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