"The Night Alive" stars Ciaran Hinds. Credit: Helen Warner
For a play with not one but two eruptions of violence, the overall effect of Conor McPherson’s “The Night Alive,” from the Atlantic Theater Company, is surprisingly muted. In fact, it’s downright bittersweet. This is both its strength and its weakness. It ambles along as a slice of lowlife, unassumingly luring you in with the twisted appeal of its loser characters of varying degrees. You like this menagerie of underachievers, even care about them, but your emotional engagement is limited, despite the exquisite acting of the close-knit company.
Center stage is Tommy (Ciaran Hinds), a 50-something almost as disheveled as the cluttered basement of his uncle’s house where he lives. He scrapes by doing odd jobs, fends off his ex-wife, neglects his two kids and gets through the day with acceptance and even an approximation of contentment. Hinds is pitch-perfect as the less-than-perfect anti-hero.
Tommy takes in Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne), a sometimes prostitute, to help hide her from an abusive ex-boyfriend. Tommy’s sidekick and co-worker Doc (Michael McElhatton) pops by regularly and often crashes for the night. Providing a steady stream of laughs, he makes Tommy look like Einstein. Jim Norton is Tommy’s crotchety Uncle Maurice, and Brian Gleeson is chilling as Aimee’s psychotic ex, Kenneth.
If “The Night Alive” is not quite compelling, it’s hardly without appeal. Liberally laced with humor, its low-key ambiance makes the sudden arrival of violence all the more affecting. The endearing shortcomings of this motley crew do mostly register — but not quite profoundly enough. The drama is just a little too casual for its own good.
‘The Night Alive’ Through Feb. 2 Atlantic Theater Company Linda Gross Theater 336 W. 20th St. $65, 866-811-4111 www.atlantictheater.org.