Joe Palka joins a stellar cast in the QTC’s The Night Alive, playing the role of Maurice. He shares with us how he continues to grow in his understanding of his character and the play.
It’s become conventional wisdom among the cast members that Maurice is a God-like figure (thanks to David Dubov’s initial interpretation that had not dawned on me until he mentioned it!) He looms from above, only coming down to pass judgment and guide behaviors. One might even liken him to Zeus, with the thunder of his cane pounding from above, but his character must also exist in a realistic, human form–experiencing guilt, anger and concern for the passing of time and the end of life. He has a transcendent awareness that “living in the moment” is the only thing that matters, and he suffers a terrible sadness that he cannot control man’s choices. When he becomes frustrated at not being able to control the carnage and violence he sees on TV, one must wonder if God has similar frustrations at observing the same carnage and violence, but without the television. (No one doubts–at least I don’t–God’s ability to do something about it, but He has His own reasons for not interfering, should He choose not to do so.)
This is my second Conor McPherson endeavor, having portrayed Richard in an acclaimed production of The Seafarer at Scena Theatre. The spiritual component of The Seafarer is more obvious, of course, when four rowdies play cards with the devil, but the theatre-goer is forced to navigate more obscure symbolism elsewhere. Although I consider The Seafarer a superior work, The Night Alive is more honest. McPherson’s symbolism is very apparent, but this is not only a play about the spirit. It is about Time. Having lived with the play for some months now, I’m confident the significance of all its devices may not occur to me for some months or years down the road.
Maurice brought me challenges of range. He is not inherently a humorous character like Richard or Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock. However,he is not completely lacking in humor – he wouldn’t be Irish if he was – but he is dealing with the guilt of losing his wife, which continues to cast a shadow over everything. He is sweet when he meets Aimee, but he becomes vindictive shortly thereafter due to his frustration with the aimlessness of the others. McPherson allows for no clear explanation, but again, it’s a play about Time. One of the beauties of the play is how it allows the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps. That is the essence of great theatre, and McPherson is a writer uniquely gifted for the theatre.