San Jose Stage usually sets up a win for me, but The Night Alive, was sadly, not company I found much value in keeping. A play billed as a sort of modern Irish nativity play, I failed to find a ray of hope among the puddle of gloom or a connection of any kind to be honest. Steeped in metaphor, angst and disillusionment, it fell well below my expectations, even for one who can usually get behind a good brooding and depressive narrative. Theater for me is always kind of a blind date, and this one felt awkward, uncomfortable and ultimately disappointing. The set up was certainly there, but it turned out the majority of it for me was simply a turn off.
Imagine you arrive at one of your favorite restaurants. As you enter (looking pretty good and feeling great) the smell of familiar anticipation and delicious possibility wafts through the main dining room. A warm, romantic glow blankets the exquisite décor. Your table’s not too close to the other diners, the chairs are comfortable, the acoustics and room temperature are impeccable. Bonus: your favorite is on tonight’s specials! The “pregame” couldn’t be more inviting and to your satisfaction. And, then your disheveled and more-than-a-little-tardy date arrives. And… well… it all goes terribly wrong somehow.
They spend the entire evening wingeing on and on about their dreary circumstances, making vague excuses for this and that, and – clearly not reading the expressions of shock and boredom on your countenance – they insist on peppering the one-sided conversation with totally inappropriate, cheap, crass passes at you. Without extending the slightest courtesy, they help themselves to sampling the food off your plate and wash it all down with an overindulgence of hard alcohol. Having dedicated far too much brain space to delegating any benefit of the doubt you could imagine to them, having tried over the slightly less than abysmal 90 minutes to manufacture some kind of rapport with and sympathy for them, one last move proves it has indeed been even worse than you initially thought. Not even a pathetic, passive-aggressive attempt at sharing the bill, they make one final transparent apology as they slink into the shadows of their own self loathing, leaving you to settle with the waiter. Was it you? Was it something you said? Did you miss something? Everything? The Night Alive, slowly but surely, turned into Night of the Living Dead and NOT in the awesome way.
This slice of life play was not unlike the 5 day old slice of pizza in my fridge; no easy way to salvage it, but still, you hate somehow to waste it. There was work that certainly went into it, but hard to see that past its shriveled, crusty, dried out appearance. I found my mind teetering somewhere between entertaining a quick nap and slapping this play squarely across the face, urging it to “Get a hold of yourself, man!”
While the talent was proven, the actors didn’t seem challenged in the least. All good, but none of them really giving me anything I hadn’t seen them do before or anything I was terribly intrigued by. The teeny-tiny smattering of humor hidden in this piece wasn’t enough to keep the mood or my interest intact. Once it was pretty much established that there were a lot of “holes” that were going to be left unfilled-in enigmas, I was disengaged completely. That climax could have already came and went, I was resigned to just waiting for my cue to depart.
Always a silver-lining in any venture, the set and props were a standout in this production. A beautifully plated dish with every detail perfectly combined to create the required dingy, disheveled and dated apartment. The saving grace of the evening was getting to focus on how perfectly disgusting the set and dressings were. How apt and maybe a bit metaphorical when I reflect on it now.
Truly, I’ve gone over and over in my mind why I couldn’t find anything particularly appealing about this play. I don’t really have a good answer aside from the chemistry wasn’t there, no love connection; no like connection. No doubt others will be more compatible with this play and perhaps it will leave a better taste in the mouths of those that can appreciate its vicious despair and not get sucked in to its bleak quagmire. Blame it on the rain. Blame it on 2016. No matter, an emo-infested 2 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a dark date that left me craving a Guinness and maybe a time machine. The Night Alive plays through December 11th at the San Jose Stage in Downtown San Jose.