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Conor McPherson’s ‘The Night Alive’ asks its audience what’s the cost of helping others? Steppenwolf ensemble members Francis Guinan and Tim Hopper play Tommy and Doc, a pair of struggling middle-aged Dubliners occasionally sharing a flat Tommy rents from his uncle (M. Emmet Walsh). One night Tommy defends a young woman from a vicious attack and a glimmer of hope begins to shine into his otherwise bleak station.
Helen Sadler plays Aimee, a troubled young woman whom Tommy offers what little stability he can. And in return Aimee represents the end of Tommy’s loneliness. With the instincts of a wild animal, Aimee finds a modicum of security in the company of her rescuer but her past comes knocking with disastrous consequences.
This short play packs in a lot to chew on. While Tommy seems to be always struggling with his finances and his personal relationships, you get the impression that he can’t handle seeing people in trouble. His relationship with Doc, a mentally challenged drifter played impeccably by Tim Hopper, (who is nearly unrecognizable in the role) is fatherly and becomes all the more tragic when he must choose between a new life of self-serving interests or staying behind and embracing the life he has.
The Steppenwolf’s production of ‘The Night Alive’ directed by Henry Wishcamper is an optimistic play. Even while watching Tommy make poor choices, and hearing his aged uncle chastise him for the terrible decisions he’s made in the past which have led him to his current situation, Francis Guinan’s performance ensures that we know Tommy is a good guy. In a world of such apathy, it’s a bittersweet reminder that people like Tommy exist in our world. Men with slightly confused intentions but in the end know the difference between right and wrong. McPherson’s strong script well balances the lightness and the darkness of the subject of kindness and sacrifice. (John J. Accrocco)
The Night Alive at Steppenwolf Theatre 1650 N Halsted. Through November 16th.