The fascinating Irish playwright Conor McPherson weaves an engrossing tale in his newest play “The Seafarer,” arriving on our shores direct from its world premiere at London’s National Theater. The haunting story of redemption superbly acted by an ensemble of five immensely gifted actors is magnificently directed by the award winning playwright himself, an astonishing achievement.
McPherson, whose ghost story “Shining City” was a highlight of the 2006 season, has also given us the Olivier Award winner, “The Weir.” As in those previous efforts, the author tackles a similar theme, the human struggle to conquer personal demons and make emotional and spiritual connections in the face of overwhelming isolation. With many comic moments “The Seafarer,” although lighter than his other plays, is nonetheless a highly charged dramatic evening that you will not easily forget.
The playwright’s absorbing language is laced with the salty booze infected talk of Irish blokes intimately familiar with one another. The characters and their relationships are beautifully delineated lending the confrontations an authenticity that is often spellbinding. McPherson manages to combine seedy qualities with otherworldliness to often unnerving effect. His dialogue is both poetically lyrical and realistic at once, displaying a keen ear for the rhythms of the area.
The story is set in Baldoyle, a small seaside hamlet just north of Dublin. All the action takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a run down two story house that two brothers share. Sharky (David Morse) is caring for his older brother Richard (Jim Norton), who was recently blinded in a freak accident by falling into a dumpster on Halloween. Their good friend Ivan (Conleth Hill), who it seems is a constant presence, has stayed the night. When the play begins we are introduced to the three in the disheveled surroundings, where they are tying to make sense out of the previous night. Sharky is on the wagon, but Richard and Ivan are badly hung over and in need of a bit of the hair of the dog that bit them.
On Christmas night they will be visited by another friend, the smugly arrogant Nicky (Sean Mahon), who will bring along an ominous stranger, the devil in the guise of the well dressed Mr. Lockhart (Ciaran Hinds). Before the evening is over, the five of them will play poker for the highest of stakes, Sharky’s soul. Apparently Sharkey in a drunken stupor many years earlier killed a man, but won his freedom by beating Mr. Lockhart in a game of cards. Now Mr. Lockhart has come to play the game that Sharky promised him 25 years ago on that fateful night. Mr. Lockhart is intent on claiming his reward and taking Sharky through “the hole in the wall” to hell, chillingly described as a coffin at the bottom of the sea.
McPherson’s skillful direction explodes in many beautifully realized gripping moments, and he further enhances the evening with an extraordinary command over the physical production as well. He seamlessly creates unexpected variations on drunken behavior that the agile actors execute perfectly.
The entire ensemble is mesmerizing and they fully inhabit their roles with a lived in truth that is rarely seen. Their chemistry is so rich that it is impossible to single out a single actor. Having said that, however, I must say Jim Norton may be the front runner for this year’s Tony Award. His affecting nuanced performance in the vastly entertaining ”Seafarer” will be difficult to beat.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
“The Seafarer” opened at the Booth Theater, 222 West 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, on December 6, 2007. Tickets are available at HYPERLINK "http://www.Telecharge.com" www.Telecharge.com , 212-239-6200, or at the box office.