James "Sharky" Harkin, erstwhile fisherman/van driver/chauffeur, is an unassuming sort of fellow well into his fifties. He lives with his cantankerous blind brother in a pretty squalid flat to the north of Dublin. He ekes out a living. He has his hopes and fears...
It's Christmas Eve. Friends turn up to play cards and get drunk on Sharky's booze. One of them, Mr. Lockhart, is a man he thinks he recognises. As the night wearson and Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day, Mr. Lockhart reminds Sharky that they last met in jail, where Sharky was doing time for killing a man in a fight.
Lockhart appears to have arranged for Sharky's miraculous early release - but only against Sharky's undertaking that the next time they play cards, and he loses, Sharky must surrender his very soul...
In his magnificently atmospheric play, McPherson is up to his old tricks, introducing real spookiness into the most ordinary surroundings: the ghost stories of The Weir, the dead wife in Shining City. With its variation on the Faust theme, The Seafarer is the strongest yet.
A chilling play about the sea, Ireland, and the power of myth.
Previews started October 30th, 07 at the Booth Theater in New York City.
As the central adversaries, Mr. Morse (of How I Learned to Drive) and Mr. Hinds (of the Broadway production of Closer) give the show a diamond-hard dramatic center it lacked in London. Mr. Morse locates exactly the fear of going wrong in the hulking, taciturn Sharky's careful movements and measured words. Mr. Hinds is uncanny in balancing the mortal failings of Mr. Lockhart's borrowed body and the immortal rage and agony of the demon within.
Like much of McPherson's work, The Seafarer is ultimately concerned with the idea of redemption. Sharky, who's on his second day of sobriety as the play begins, has a past filled with mistakes, both large and small -- which may be why he exhibits a certain ambivalence about the necessity of a future. But once refueled with alcohol, Sharky acquires at least a momentary determination to go on living, even if there's no explicit promise of brighter days ahead. The always brilliant Morse -- too long absent from the New York stage -- imbues Sharky with a gravity, not to mention an awkward grace, that immediately causes the audience to empathize with his character. Yet, neither Morse nor McPherson shy away from Sharky's less-admirable qualities.
If Morse centers the play, Norton gives its most expansive and sly performance. It's the kind of crowd-pleasing yet innately truthful work that earns shelves of awards. Indeed, he won the coveted Olivier Award for his work in the show's London production, and I will be far from surprised to see him ascend the steps of Radio City next June. Richard's rage and resentment lie just beneath the surface of a falsely cheery exterior, and when they erupt, it's truly frightening. Hill, the show's other holdover cast member from the National Theater, is an incredibly accomplished physical comedian and earns more than his share of the play's laughs. Hinds oozes the proper mixture of charm and malevolence as Lockhart, and Mahon holds his own against these powerhouses, deftly capturing Nicky's fecklessness.
McPherson is celebrated for his facility with twist endings, and he's come up with one here that's more comic than his usual modus operandi. Yet, as the curtain descends on The Seafarer, one can't totally shake the feeling that we've watched a lengthy parlor trick -- albeit a superbly performed one ---rather than the kind of profound play the author may have intended.
Each of the actors portrays his character's unique grappling with this in ways so varied that you experience the full range of masculine dissolution from a fairly limited cross-section of Irish society. Morse's despondent take anchors the evening with its familiarity, though his guy-next-door charm likeability allows you to give up on him entirely. Norton is so thoroughly addled as Richard, yet so in tune with his own desires (usually for stout), that you can't feel as though he sees quite a bit more than he lets on. Hill has built the biggest shield of all around Ivan, but cracks most convincingly when he articulates his own near-brush with Mr. Lockhart's charms. Mahon is delightfully empty-headed as the most well-adjusted, but least substantial, of the group.
But it's Mr. Lockhart that's the most unavoidable - and irresistible. Hinds doesn't make him into a run-of-the-mill moustache-twirler or a mere Grinch suffering from a too-small heart, but unlocks in him seasonal spirit merely 180 degrees removed from the traditional. His weapons go beyond mere humbugging: brooding charm, a slightly tarnished innocence, and a firm grasp on the truth. Hinds never lets you forget that Mr. Lockhart knows who he is and what he wants, and the closer to (or farther from) that he gets, the more terrifying he becomes.
Not your typical yuletide yarn? Maybe. But in The Seafarer, McPherson's depiction of ordinary men's struggles against both identifiable evil without and the insidious kind within is rejuvenating enough on its own terms to recall stories about figures from George Bailey to Rudolph, who overcame their personal demons to contribute something vital to the world. If that isn't Christmassy, what is?
Beg, borrow or steal a ticket but get thee to the Booth Theatre to experience Conor McPherson's marvelous new play, The Seafarer. McPherson is in the vanguard of a slew of new writing talent emerging from Ireland that includes Sebastian Barry, Marie Jones, Billy Roche and Martin McDonagh. The Seafarer treads some of the same ground as The Weir, McPherson's masterpiece, but dare I say it, The Seafarer may be a better and more realized play. You have to wonder about McPherson; has he, like Robert Johnson, made a pact with the devil at the crossroads, for not only is he a great writer but a very fine director; and the guy hasn't even hit thirty yet. He does have some splendid players to work with. Jim Norton has to be one of the finest physical actors hitting the boards nowadays. And that's not to take away from his other strengths including his vocal powers. New York's method actor community should flock to the Booth, for this man can be understood in the back of the theatre even when whispering. He has an innate feel for McPherson's dialogue and can throw around the F word in a way that would have even have Mitt Romney smiling.
Conleth Hill is a revelation. If he was good in Stones in his Pockets he is superb in this production. He too is an amazing physical actor. Although, I've seen him around New York in social settings, I had to squint to make sure it was the same person in the role of Ivan Curry. He doesn't just play the sad sack alcoholic Dubliner, he inhabits the part.
Ciarán Hinds, David Morse and Sean Mahon are all excellent. To lump the charismatic Mr. Hinds as one of three other actors in a play demonstrates just how powerful this cast is. However, I have to single out his tour-de-force description of hell. Mahon brings a great humanity to the part of Nicky Giblin, a role that could have seemed cliched in the hands of a lesser actor. And Morse is a revelation. I was amazed to learn from the program that he isn't Irish and I hail from the isle of saints and scholars. A further note to actors, check out this man's accent. There is none. There's no need for your regular Irish Spring commercial voice when you're in sync with the rests of a marvelous cast.
The Seafarer is a wonderful play. It reaffirms my faith in theatre. It is by times, funny, tragic, but ultimately uplifting. A moving experience, it is ultimately so human. It shows life in all its complexity and proves that just when you think that things can't get worse, they do; but there's always a chance that they'll get better. This alcoholic humdinger of a morality tale playing at the Booth is one of those occasions. Blow up your TVs, throw your ipods in the Hudson. Don't miss The Seafarer.
Directed by Conor McPherson
Set and Costume Designed by Rae Smith
Lighting Designed by Neil Austin
Sound Designed by Mathew Smethurst Evans
|Mr Lockhart||Ciarán Hinds||James "Sharky" Harkin||David Morse|
|Richard Harkin||Jim Norton||Ivan Curry||Conleth Hill|
|Nicky Giblin||Shean Mahon|
Company/theatre: Booth Theatre
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