by Marie Jones
September 6 – October 1, 2000
Victory Gardens Theatre
2257 N. Lincoln Avenue
From the Chicago Sun-Times
‘A Night in November’
September 8th, 2000
By Hedy Weiss
What triggers a radical alteration in the way someone thinks about those they’ve long considered “the enemy”? And isn’t that “enemy” invariably oneself?
These are the questions that tend to get asked somewhere near the exhaustion point in every bloody and protracted civil conflict. And they are the animating force behind Marie Jones’ one-man, multiple-character play, “A Night in November,” which opened Wednesday evening in a Seanachaí Theatre Company production starring John Dunleavy.
Jones is a Belfast-born Protestant whose work has enjoyed success in England and Ireland. The seeds for her play clearly grew out of the burgeoning sense over the past decade that attitudes among many Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland were undergoing a profound shift. Though extremists on both sides continued to go at it, there was a growing impatience with the lunacy of their relentless brutality and bigotry and a desire to forge a different future.
“A Night in November” tracks this transformation in all its tragicomic dimensions through the retrospective confessions of one man–Kenneth McAllister–a Belfast Protestant who works as a bureaucrat in the city’s welfare office, where he routinely treats his Catholic clients with contempt. In doing so, Jones also shows how prejudice warps every aspect of existence.
For McAllister, the turning point comes in 1994, as the World Cup soccer championship goes into high gear, and he suddenly finds himself revolted by the behavior of his bigoted father-in-law when the two attend a crucial match between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Too timid to tell the man off, he realizes he has repressed all his true feelings for years, whether in his tentative friendship with his Catholic boss; in his rigid, passionless marriage; in his laughable quest for membership in the local golf club, or in his innermost soul.
All this is carefully, if at times a bit too schematically limned, as McAllister narrates his own surprising and often deeply painful change of heart and mind, and as he plays all the people, male and female, who move through his life. The crucial sea-change occurs in the extended, high-spirited, semicomic travelogue that fills the play’s second act. That’s when McAllister uncharacteristically tosses caution to the wind, hops on a plane for a World Cup match between the Irish Republic and Italy in New York, and along the way realizes he is, above all, an Irishman.
Dunleavy, who has delivered a wide range of nuanced performances in all of the shows produced by the Irish-inflected Seanachaí troupe, is a compact man with a balding head and a face that can register frustration, anger, defeat and mischief in easy and rapid succession.
Though initially hampered by opening-night nerves, the actor powerfully conjured the tensions in his character’s marriage in the first act. And by the gleeful, liberating second half of this stamina-testing work, he was in fine form.
From the Chicago Tribune
Dunleavy’s energy carries this ‘Night’
By Richard Christiansen
John Dunleavy, a member of the Seanachaí Theatre Company, is giving an unquestionably bravura performance in the Irish playwright Marie Jones’ questionable play, “A Night in November.”
Jones, whose recent two-man comedy “Stones in His Pocket” has become a major hit in Ireland and London, is a Belfast Protestant writing here about a drab middle-class clerk who, through a most curious process, frees himself from the deep-rooted bigotry that separates Roman Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
Kenneth Norman McAllister, portrayed by the bald, tubby, pug-faced Dunleavy, is a minor, middle-aged bureaucrat, mired in a boring job and a loveless marriage, who considers himself part of the Protestant “us” that must forever be against the Roman Catholic “them.”
One night in November, however, he takes his hateful father-in-law to a soccer game between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland and, suddenly revolted by the venom he sees spewing from the stands, he spins into spiritual crisis.
He becomes friendly with his Catholic boss, he denounces the petty prejudices of his neighbors, he tries (unsuccessfully) to communicate with his wife. Finally, in a burst of inspiration, he ups and takes off for New York City to join the roistering band of soccer fans who are making the trip for the 1994 World Cup match between the Irish Republic and Italy.
Bellying up to the bar and having a high old time with the good old lads of the soccer crowd, he at last feels he is home. A note of tragedy interrupts his partying, but, with new resolve, he finds himself purged. He has at last become a true Irishman.
Thanks to Dunleavy’s earthy, intense performance, this strange path to enlightenment does not seem stranger still.
Switching from the befuddled McAllister to every other character whom the play’s hero encounters, from wife to neighbor and from child to old man, Dunleavy for two hours fills the small stage of the Victory Gardens upstairs studio with a gallery of lusty Irish characters in this one-man show.
Jones’ script, despite a basic flaw that sees its hero rejecting one rowdy group and joining another, has several piercing moments of truth, as when McAllister must confront an angry Catholic man on welfare whom the clerk has taken great zest in humiliating.
Aiding in maintaining the story’s momentum are director Stephen J. Rose and lighting designer Benton Bullwinkel, who keep the actor on the move from one lighted area to the next.
But it is Dunleavy’s fierce energy, and broad Irish accent, that invigorate the play and make Jones’ queer logic seem believable.
From Gay Chicago Magazine
By Jeff Rossen
When least expected, a life can change. Something happens that forces a reexamination of goals, of ethics, of one’s view of life in general. It happens to Kenneth Norman McCallister, a Protestant government employee living a mundane day-to-day existence in Belfast, when he accompanies his bigoted father-in-law to a soccer match between local boys and a visiting team from the Irish Republic. The game is a prelude to an upcoming World Cup match in the U.S., and the local fans taunt and deride the visitors with ethnic and cultural slurs that sets Ken on a personal journey that makes him rethink his life, his beliefs, his family and friends. And when his eyes are reopened, he does not like what he sees around him. Not one bit.
Marie Jones’ play is highly manipulating, both of its subject and characters and of the audience. But this one-man monologue in which Kenneth recreates the characters that surround him as well provides a rigorous framework for actor John Dunleavy, and he rises to the challenge with a performance of deep passion, brisk humor and absolute conviction. His is one of the year’s finest turns.
“This isn’t a football game,” he says while watching his father-in-law and those around him freely and joyously berate to opposing team, “it’s a battlefield. It’s not about who wins, it’s about who doesn’t.” And one who doesn’t win is Kenneth himself, repulsed by what he hears and prompted to begin looking at how he has been guilty of similar behavior, such as mistreating an unemployed Catholic father who comes to the welfare office where Kenneth works as a processing clerk. Or in how he’s lauded his recent acceptance into a discriminating golf club over his Catholic boss, only to realize that the man is more than his religion, he’s a human being with a life and family, just as Kenneth is.
Dunleavy, under Steve Rose’s finely detailed direction, colors Kenneth and the many characters in his life — from his mousy wife and vile-tongued father-in-law to the countrymen he meets on an abrupt new direction his life takes — with a rich palette, shading and texturing the personalities into vibrant portraits. Over the course of just under two hours, we’re fully drawn into Kenneth’s world and his crisis, even if Jones depicts that world in terms that are often too black-and-white and eschews subtlety for commentary. Dunleavy and Rose soften Jones’ overt politicism and focus on the humanity in the play’s setting and how it relates to the world at large.
A flawless lighting design by Benton Bullwinkel of Karen Eldred’s simple multilevel set enhances the various locales in Kenneth’s story, the telling of which in the tiny Victory Gardens upstairs studio space is one of the year’s great treasures. (****)