On Sundays, Gothamist runs opinion pieces on issues relevant to life in New York. The views expressed below are solely those of the author.

2005_11_arts_salvage.jpg When you walk into the building where the Storm Theatre is located above a church parish, you’re instantly awash in a warm, light cloud of incense – not the obnoxious kind sold on the street, just a pleasant, comforting one. If you know a little about The Salvage Shop, you may be induced to think, “ah, but of course, the Irish and the Church, must be something to do with that…” But in fact this particular stereotype does not really factor into Jim Nolan’s new play. Instead, it is the stereotype, probably well founded, of the Irish as hotblooded folk who never forget the past, that drives The Salvage Shop (a somewhat similar example from earlier in the fall was The Blowin of Baile Gall). The play has enjoyable, well-conceived passages where everything comes together, but in general it relies too heavily on such tired clichés and the sentimental melodrama that arises from them, so that you're apt to leave the whole play behind as soon as you leave the theater and the lingering aroma of incense.

Of course, a reviewer has to remember in order to write, so here goes. In sum, Eddie Tansey (Paul Anthony McGrane) has returned to his father’s home because the old man, Sylvie (David Little) has only a short time to live. What time he does have is being soured by his conflict with members of the band he’s conducted for many years; Sylvie, as Little makes plain from the get-go, is all rough edges and lack of consideration for others. This has gotten him in trouble with the band and it also provokes the old demons that exist between him and Eddie. On top of this, Eddie’s daughter Katie (Kristen Bush) is also around stirring up bad feelings – she’s taken a job at a hotel owned by Eddie’s arch-enemy (horrors!) – and his girlfriend Rita (Karen Eke) is demanding his attention and commitment. At first Eddie seems to take it all in stride, if not happily, as he works on refurbishing old furniture in the salvage shop that’s the downstairs of Sylvie’s house, but Nolan has clearly set the stage for major fireworks.

2005_11_arts_Salvage184.jpg In some places this premeditation is rather too obvious, even though Nolan withholds a lot of information about past secrets until the end, in an effort at suspense that ends up being more frustrating. Fortunately he doesn’t lean too hard on the metaphor of salvation implied by the family’s salvage business; it’s actually sort of off the radar for much of the show, or would be but for Todd Edward Ivin’s majestically cluttered set, which as a result seems kind of underutilized. Nolan never, however, loses sight of the aforementioned stereotype about Irish tempers and long memories; the play opens with a nearly indecipherable harangue by Sylvie as he arrives home with his quiet friend and fellow bandmember Stephen (Roland Johnson, in the nicest, most subtle performance of the show). But by the end of the first act, when Sylvie’s learned of his death sentence and things are starting to sink in, he’s withdrawn and sulky, bereft of the will to do much. When Sylvie loses his fire, Eddie gains it tenfold as he launches into a fool's errand to try to give Sylvie a reason to live. McGrane, for his part, launches into a manic, sometimes over-the-top performance that one would hardly have thought possible from his dreamy, laconic aspect in the first couple of scenes, but although it’s forceful, the intensity seems less right on him than on Little during Sylvie’s tantrums. McGrane just seems nuts, almost more so than his character, and not only in the most notable scenery-chewing display when he takes a two-by-four to a trashcan. Of course, at least this emotion is real and developed from real emotion Nolan wrote into the character; he did not do so much for the women, who are rather thin creations that don’t give the actresses much to go on.

Nolan does manage to redeem (er, salvage) things a bit at the end, even though it’s essentially as predictable as the rest, and this may be largely due to Little’s excellent, wise incarnation of Sylvie, which manages to avoid the triteness and sentimentality that it would have been so easy to fall into. In a world with so much old, bad blood running through every relationship, it would be impossible for everyone to be reconciled, and though Nolan sort of tries to get them to anyway, anyone watching the actors actually embody his characters will know that they’ve come only part-way, if that. One wishes he would have remembered the harder truths that govern the real world, especially, one would think, the one he’s writing about -- not necessarily to make the play depressing, but to show that any salvation that does happen is rare and sweet. The Salvage Shop may have more of an impact on you; to this reviewer it didn’t seem to break out of its clichés enough to say what needed to be said in a forceful, memorable way.

Details: The Salvage Shop is at the Storm Theatre, 145 W. 46th St., through Nov. 19. Shows are Wed.-Sat. 7:30pm. Tickets via Smarttix.

Photo by Kelleigh Miller