The joy of the plays of Conor McPherson, one of Ireland's most acclaimed playwrights, is that his plays make you feel like you've just sat next to the most interesting man in the room, and that man is telling you about the most interesting time of his life. McPherson's plays are captivating, relatable, and have an awkward honesty to them that feels so real. It's no question, then, why they always behave so well in the hands of Ken Webster, artistic director of Hyde Park Theatre, since Austin has few storytellers with more authentic skill in telling raw, intimate, earnest stories. In Hyde Park Theatre's latest production of McPherson's work, “Port Authority”, he's only carrying a third of the weight, as he's joined as Austin theater veteran Tom Green, and one of Austin's most talented up-and-comers, Nate Jackson, to tell three tales of love, loss, and the awful awkwardness of life.
When “Port Authority” begins, we're introduced to three very different people. The first is a young punk moving out on his own for the first time, and moving in with the girl of his dreams. He's cocky, he's self-deprecating, he's all of us at eighteen. The second is a man entering his middle years, who has secured a steady job at a shipping company, and who is whisked away on a wild LA vacation by his overzealous boss. The final man is an aged, proper gentlemen, reminiscing about lost love after the delivery of a mysterious package. These stories bob and weave around each other, never truly meeting, but how they connect in their own ways helps to give us a better picture of the other two gentlemen with whom they share the stage.
It's always wonderful to see a young talent on the rise, and Nate Jackson, who just came off a much-acclaimed performance in Capital T Theatre's "punkplay", is showing himself to be just that with his performance here. Grabbing our attention with word one, Jackson shows a remarkable presence, his timbre and cadence winning over the audience from word one, and his comedic timing sparking up just when we least expect it. McPherson is not easy wordsmith to tackle, even for an experienced performer, but Jackson shows he's got the chops to pull it off despite his age, easily sliding into this likable, if flawed, young man, a character who could easily become intolerable in the wrong hands.
Tom Green has always had a talent for pulling every ounce of emotion out of a piece, as could not be more evident than in last year's stunning “A Steady Rain” by chick and a dude productions, and here he brandishes that talent to give his tale of an aging man, and his longing for a distant stranger, a real palpable pang. He performs his role without the fire and blast of his younger counterparts, but there's something about his direct, stolid delivery that helps to make the material that much more heartbreaking. There's a somberness to his countenance, a distance in his eyes that tugs at our heartstrings heavily, and when you see the small glimmering tear roll down his face, it's hard to keep the floodgates closed yourself.
There is no man in town who can take on a one-man show quite like Ken Webster, as he's shown in his past performances in McPherson's "Saint Nicholas" and "The Good Thief", as well as Daniel MacIvor's "House". Though "Port Authority" may not be a one-man show in the usual sense, he still shows a real talent for grabbing the audience's attention and holding it fast. There's something about Webster's speed of delivery, a certain je ne sais quoi to his phrasing and pitch, that makes him a natural born storyteller, so much so that it's difficult to look away the moment he opens his mouth. He takes a character who is very difficult to like, an aging, often lewd, drunk, and shows the audience what there is to like about the character under all the sleaze, even as he rattles on about the debaucherous deeds the character partakes in.
"Port Authority" is a bit of a strange beast, a kind of three-headed one-man show lightly sewn together to create a satisfying whole. Though that might sound unruly on paper, it's to the credit of the playwright, the wonderful cast, and the direction of Webster and his Assistant Directors, that the result is such a powerful, and oft-hilarious, experience. Both the veterans and the newcomer wear their characters like a comfy sweater, never missing a beat or falling out, and always remaining intriguing throughout.
"Port Authority" is playing at Hyde Park Theatre through August 9th. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit hydeparktheatre.org.