By Dawn Watson
There’s something about the darkly brooding voice of an Irish play that speaks loud and clear to Stephen Hamilton.
The Sag Harbor-based director, producer actor and teacher, who will be helming Conor McPherson’s “The Night Alive” at Guild Hall in East Hampton from Wednesday, May 4, through May 22, is as drawn to the complex dramas as St. Patrick to the Celtic cross.
“I’m not knocking the frothy and fun plays, but there’s enough of that,” he explained during a recent interview in Sag Harbor. “I like to dig a little deeper into the unvarnished moments and into things that make you think long after you leave the theater.”
To that end, Mr. Hamilton is no stranger to plays that happen to be set in in the land of Éire. Most recently, he directed Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan” at Guild Hall in 2013, but that’s just one of many that he’s participated in during his lifetime in the theater.
In fact, the journey to “Night” has brought the Southampton Theatre Conference Director and Bay Street Theater co-founder to a full 360-degree moment, he says. Bookending his first and (to-date) last efforts at the work of an Irish dramatist, he’s working with a young actor, Molly Carden, who happens to be the daughter of director Pamela Berlin, who directed Mr. Hamilton 35 years ago when he was a young actor, in his first-ever Irish outing, “Playboy of the Western World.”
“This play closed a little circle for me,” he said from a sunny spot on the Paul Sidney tribute bench on Main Street, which the director chose as “inspiration” for a chat about the drama. “Every time I see Molly, I see her mom and dad, who became good friends as well as mentors.”
Continuing the theme of cementing theater relationships, “The Night Alive” also stars Tuck Milligan, who has worked with Mr. Hamilton on “All My Sons,” “Tonight at 8:30,” “The Cripple of Inishmaan” and Equus” at Guild Hall. Also starring in this production is Kevin O’Rourke, who won a Screen Actors Guild award for his work on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”; J. Stephen Brantley, last seen in “Mope” at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York; and Rob DiSario, who has starred in “The Crucible” and “Men’s Lives” at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
The personal relationships at play here are powerful, though they aren’t the only ties that bind the work together for the director, he says. As was also the case with “Inishmaan” and other plays that interest him, including as last summer’s Guild Hall hit “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller, he was he was drawn to the complexity and richness of the material of the New York Drama Critics Best Play of 2013-2014 from the first read, he says.
“These plays just sort of pick me,” he explains of his dramatic choices. “‘Night’ especially kept coming back to me after I read it. It has grabbed me on so many levels—through my heart and mind, supernaturally and metaphysically; a lot winds through it.”
First staged in 2013 in London, the tale exposes “the depth of humanity” while balancing a subtext of “boisterous humor that McPherson has become famous for,” says Mr. Hamilton. It’s sure to thrill East End audiences who are looking for a meaty drama he adds.
It’s set entirely in the drawing room of a former mansion in Dublin, now a cheap and squalid “bedsit” for down-on-his-luck Tommy and sometime crash pad for his couch-surfing friend, Doc. The play’s action unfolds immediately after Tommy saves Aimee from a brutal attack on the street. Secreting her away in his room, he hopes to help the young woman while hiding her from the prying eyes of his landlord, who also happens to be his widowed uncle Maurice, and of her attacker.
What eventually happens as a result of that violence is as ambiguous as it is compelling. But as the story progresses, one thing that becomes clear is that each of these people are in need of much more than the basics they have been subsisting on. In order to fully live their lives; they need the love and acceptance of others.
It’s heavy material, but there are plenty of lighthearted moments, says Mr. Hamilton. And the message that is ultimately delivered is universal, as well as spiritual.
“These beautiful characters are struggling to find a home. And they come with a question that we all share and that brings us grace,” he says. “This play asks us to consider what’s going on in our hearts and minds, and in our world, that we don’t even see. Ultimately, we depend on the people who depend on us. And by extension, God depends on us depending on him or her.”
“I think it’s going to be a pretty special thing,” continues Mr. Hamilton, gesturing first to the bench on which he’s sitting and then to the heavens above. “From my lips to Paul Sidney’s ears.”
“The Night Alive” by Conor McPherson stages at Guild Hall in East Hampton from Wednesday, May 4, through Sunday, May 22, with performances starting at 8 p.m. For this production, the audience is seated on the stage. Tickets are $35 for adults and $10 for students, with discounts given to Guild Hall members. For reservations and additional information, visit www.guildhall.org.