The Santa Paula Theatre Center is currently showing an outstanding production of The Night Alive, a wonderfully written, recent  play by Conor McPherson, undoubtedly one of the best playwrights of our time. This is an excellent production of a great play, by one of our greatest playwrights. Don’t miss it.
Set in Dublin, it is classic McPherson, multi-leveled, beautifully written in the tradition of the best of Irish story-telling, earthy, and not always what it at first appears to be.
This production is greatly enhanced by a fabulously good set designed by Taylor Kasch, with the gritty over-the-top realism we saw earlier this year in Kasch’s design for Small Engine Repair at the Flying H Theatre. Kasch takes stage naturalism a few steps further than most with a level of detail and the sheer visual density of a long-lived-in environment. At this level of detail, the set itself becomes not only a work of Installation Art in its own right, but starts operating as an additional cast member as well.
(l) Cecil Sutton and (r)Taylor Kasch in Conor McPherson’s The Night Aliveat the Santa Paula Theater Center,
downtown Santa Paula, through 2 October, 2016.
As for the cast, what Taylor Kasch, as Tommy, and Cecil Sutton, as Maurice, do is of the highest order and would hold up on any stage in New York City, London, or anywhere else in the world. Kasch’s Tommy is the core of the story, a good, but broken man, with the most minimal of remaining resources who takes a chance on an act of mercy, opens the goodness of his heart, to be overwhelmed by the consequences. Sutton’s Maurice starts slow and admirably enough, keenly revealing the various stages of his drunkenness or sobriety at every turn, then in a riveting, and hilarious, scene, where he appears completely drunk he takes the play to deeper depths. When these two have the stage to themselves they are spellbinding, pulling out the inner threads of McPherson’s text in a way only the best actors can.
Brian Harris is a solid and appropriately scary Ken, the boyfriend or pimp, depending on your point of view. Harris milks the simple act of taking off his coat for all the menace possible. Though a minor part, Harris gives an excellent reading of its role in the overall play.
Ron Feltner plays Doc, Tommy’s slower and denser accomplice. Feltner is a good foil to Kasch’s Tommy. Feltner has the best brogue of the lot, as well, and Feltner has given him a bit of a weave and some quirks that flesh out Doc’s oddness very well, but it’s all a wee bit overplayed, which is a dangerous line to cross in a McPherson play. Doc is a slow and earthy, simple soul, but he’s played too supple and quick to be the character McPherson actually writes. It still works though, but in a McPherson world, it looks too busy.
Jessi May Steveson and Taylor Kasch in Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive at the Santa Paula Theater Center,
downtown Santa Paula, through 2 October, 2016.
The lone female character in the play, Aimee, is played by Jessi May Stevenson. It is a great part for her, extremely well suited to her particular capabilities. It will be a great part for developing her talents further and grow into. With the level of superb acting talent surrounding her, this could be a great opportunity for her to take her acting to the next level, or two. It will be very interesting to see where she ends up by the end of the run.
Speaking of runs, be sure and see this play as soon as possible. Many people feel they need to see this play at least twice, so give yourself the chance to do that if it turns out you are one of them. Yes, it is one of those plays: one that can read radically differently once you already know where it is going, but it does not work to know that to begin with for that would spoil the fun of going through its unfolding, which has its own special mysteries and some delightful surprises first time around.
Directed by David Ralphe, a man who obviously appreciates Conor McPherson, produced by Leslie Nichols, with Taylor Kasch’s knock-out set design, costumes by Barbara Peziwiatr, whose costumes for Maurice deserve special mention, especially the suit coat and vest over pajamas, Gary Richardson, lighting design, Ralphe, sound design, an important part in every production of The Night Alive, Gail Heck, prop mistress, Karl Krause, stage manager, and Doug Learn, tech support. Special kudos to whomever did Jessi May Stevenson’s make-up for getting a sock in the nose and the subsequent bruising right.
The Night Alive by Conor McPherson at the Santa Paula Theatre Center
directed by David Ralphe
Featuring Taylor Kasch, Jessi May Stevenson, Ron Feltner, Brian Harris, and Cecil Sutton
playing through 2 October 2016
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm.
tickets and reservations online at SantaPaulaTheatreCenter.org