In The Moment: ‘The Sound is the Kicker’ in Scena’s ‘The Night Alive’

Another superior night with Irish playwright Conor McPherson, this time at Scena Theatre under Robert McNamara’s illuminating, layered direction of McPherson’s earthy, sideward glance at damaged people, The Night Alive (2013). 

Bob Sheire and Mollie Goff in The Night Alive. Photo by Jae Yi. Photography.

For the five imperfect characters that populate The Night Alive, life is a constant struggle. Little is reliable. Love is conditional. Coiled anger surround these down-and-out, imperfect souls searching for salvation, or maybe merely love, in McPherson’s disquieting The Night Alive.

But more than the night is alive at SCENA. The production is bursting with superior, naturalistic, subtle performances of five actors; Barry McEvoy, Brian Mallon, Ron Litman, Robert Sheire and Mollie Goff. My DC Theater Arts colleague Julia Hurley gives plenty of details about the play and these fine performance in her review.

Her review gives me the opportunity to concentrate on the impressive sound design that Denise Rose provided The Night Alive.

As I took in the production, Rose accomplished way more than just take up empty spacse that McPherson purposely had provided and that McNamara’s saw needed to be filled; and fill it with music he gave to Rose. In seven scene changes as well as pre-show music, Rose’s selections are the connecting points or propelling moments. And there is one scene where her music underpins a divine, happy dance sequence that breaks out to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as three very unlikely dancers perform with smooth panache. (the choreography is uncredited).

Rose’s music and vocal selections were a mixture of the bright, harmonies of 1960’s pop love-is-here Motown (Detroit) along with the dark, soul edged blues of lost love from Stax (Memphis). Scena’s production of The Night Alive maybe about lolst ouls, but the music provides hints of what may be coming to them, if they don’t give up on life and stay on the look-out for better things that might come their way.

Ron Litman and Barry McEvoy in The Night Alive. Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

So, what are these musical selections that I perked up to? Well, Denise Rose was kind enough to provide the song list.

Here is the list along with a few vids of several songs that stuck deeper into me.(yes, I am partial to the Stax sound). After you see the show let me know what got into your ears. I love to know.


Jeff Beck- “I Ain’t Superstitious”

James Brown- “Sex Machine”

Al Green- “Love and Happiness”

The Rolling Stones-“Going to a Go-Go”

The Supremes- “Where Did Our Love Go”

Otis Redding- “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”

Scene Changes, Dance, and Finale:

Howling’ Wolf- “Back Door Man”  (SCENE CHANGE)

Marvin Gaye- “What’s Going On” (DANCE)

Otis Redding- “Try A Littl Tenderness” (SCENE CHANGE)

Soft Cell- “Tainted Love”  (SCENE CHANGE)

The Pierces- “Secret”  (SCENE CHANGE)

The Candy Shop Boys- “Evil Man Blues” (SCENE CHANGE)

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas- “Heat Wave”  (FINALE)

Sound design in a straight play can sometimes thought of in this context; the less heard that might interfere with a production the better. (As we know, the Tony’s no longer award a Tony for sound design). In the case of Denise Rose’s sound design for The Night Alive, I can’t image I would have enjoyed the fine production and superior performances as much as I did without her music selections. Rose was an invisible Goddess who gave me hope for McPherson’s characters without giving away anything. And they gave me some ability to wish good things would happen to them. Well, all but one and he will be easy to spot when you see The Night Alive.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.

The Night Alive plays through April 9th, 2017, at Scena Theatre performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 399-7993, or go online.


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