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Irish dramatist Conor McPherson has made a career of transforming lyrical, character-driven monologues into plays. But "Port Authority," originally produced in 2001 and now receiving its American premiere from off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company, lacks McPherson's usual rich touch. Only Brian d'Arcy James' vibrant performance enlivens this lethargic production.

The Dublin-born McPherson arrived on the American theater scene during the late '90s, when his plays "This Lime Tree Bower," "St. Nicholas" and "Rum and Vodka" were produced off-Broadway. He quickly won a following; audiences and critics admired his image-filled language and stories told by a retinue of sympathetic misfits.

In recent years, McPherson has graduated from monodramas to multicharacter dramas like "The Seafarer," a dark comedy involving the supernatural, nominated this season for four Tonys, including best play.

The 90-minute "Port Authority," a weak example of the playwright's earlier style, lacks "Seafarer's" devastating humor, grit and depth.

A long, wooden, high-backed bench, of the sort we rarely see anymore in train and bus stations, is the only item onstage, and it attracts three weary Irish men, each with a painful story to tell. Young, awkward Kevin (John Gallagher Jr.) recently left home for the first time. Dermot (James), middle-aged and paunchy, is out of work. And Joe (Jim Norton, nominated for a "Seafarer" Tony) is an elderly widower regretting a love he never pursued.

The woman who got away is a theme that connects these men's interlocking tales. But as each gent walks to the edge of the stage and speaks, the only story that holds our attention is Dermot's wry, self-deprecating account of a fiasco involving an employer's sexy wife. Looking scruffy and sounding as though he were suffering from a hangover, James transports us to the humiliating world of the perpetual loser who finally can't lie to himself.

Gallagher, who won a Tony last season for his performance in the musical "Spring Awakening," wrestles with an Irish accent and gets beat. Norton, so terrifically funny in "Seafarer," can't overcome McPherson's pallid writing.

But James, whom audiences will see next season when "Shrek the Musical" comes to Broadway, finds a vein of comedic misery and taps it.
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