There are times in The Night Alive when hints of otherwordly happenings infiltrate the everyday lives of a few Irish outcasts. Then there are the other times when bouts of melodramatic ridiculousness hit you over the head like a claw hammer.
Thoroughly detailed down to the last dripping faucet and crumpled newspaper, Undermain Theatre's production is most effective when it dabbles in subtlety.
Playwright Conor McPherson's dialogue often discusses the mundane and banal, but with the lilting Irish accents the cast has mostly perfected, it sounds like poetry. Until act two, that is, when the action veers into the patently absurd.
But for the first act, we are watching the cautious dance between Tommy (Bruce DuBose), an aging layabout who lives parasitically off his crabby uncle Maurice (the fierce Gordon Fox), and Aimee, a battered young woman with nowhere else to go. Tommy gallantly came to Aimee's rescue after seeing her get hit by a mysterious man (Marcus Stimac) outside a Dublin shop, and has brought the twitchy creature back to his messy flat.
There's not so much the suggestion of romance between the two as there is a blossoming of mutual respect. Tommy thoughtfully provides the girl with sundries and hot tea, allowing her a place to stay for a few nights. As Aimee, Katherine Bourne watches Tommy warily, only creeping toward his unsophisticated kindness haltingly. Her accent is wobbly, but the ferocity in her eyes makes up for it.
This new dynamic confuses Tommy's friend Doc, whose slow yet cheerful manner gradually changes into resentment toward the interloper. Scott Latham is remarkable, never bringing Doc over the edge to caricature. Under Dylan Key's measured direction, it's achingly human to watch the three of them tiptoe around this strange new triangle.
A jarringly violent occurrence right before intermission feels out of place, but not even close to the curious events of the second act. It almost feels like a completely different show, and the subtle shades of our three main characters are eclipsed by blunt words and actions. While there might have been a delicate magic during the night, what emerges in the morning is an entirely different animal.
The Night Alive plays through December 12 at Undermain Theatre.