Jim Norton won an Olivier Award for his performance in Conor McPherson’s 2006 The Seafarer, while McPherson was nominated for both the Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best Play. In October 2007, the play opened on Broadway to predominantly good reviews. It has pedigree and roots. (Not a clue as to the reason for its title which seems to relate to nothing onstage.)
McPherson excels in the wordy – sometimes poetic, macabre, and authentically Irish. He has the tongue and taste of common man. Words can be intriguing, riveting, or like Act I of this play, just a barrage. All those strong Irish accents take a great deal of audience concentration on top of which, besides drunken chatter and character sketch, nothing happens. Really. Nothing.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. William Shakespeare
Andy Murray, Michael Mellamphy, Colin McPhillamy
Christmas Eve, Baldoyle, County Dublin, Ireland. James ‘Sharkey’ Harkin (Andy Murray) has come home from working in another county. We don’t know why – could be for the holiday, because of an implied affair with the wife of the man for whom he was driving, or just to see his blind brother Richard (Colin McPhillamy).
The latter is a bombastic, fall-down-drunk who’ll imbibe anything with alcohol short of turpentine and I’m not so sure about that given his intake of poteen (a potent, illicit elixir made from potatoes). Richard lost his sight falling into a dumpster and periodically milks it like Camille. He has a glass, mug, or bottle in his hand for over two hours. Sharkey begins the play on a two day drinking hiatus.
Also waking at the Harkin cottage deeply hung over is boon companion, Ivan Curry (Michael Mellamphy), consistently inebriated and increasingly afraid to go home to his wife. The men are joined by Nicky Giblin (Tim Ruddy) now dating Sharkey’s ex (there’s bristling) and his guest, the clearly out of place Mr. Lockhart (Matthew Broderick) who wears a three piece suit and never cracks a smile. Spoiler alert – Lockhart is the Devil. When Sharkey was recently in the clink, he played cards for freedom in exchange for his soul. (One assumes he was plastered beyond judgment.) End of Act I.
Matthew Broderick, Michael Mellamphy,Tim Ruddy, Colin McPhillamy, Andy Murray
Act II improves with its axis now spinning around covert Satan. Except for parenthetic exchanges between Sharkey and Lockhart, dialogue, however, is inconsequential. The men play cards, refer to absent friends, chide one another, and go vigilante on some backyard wineos. Knowing what’s roiling under the surface gives us a reason to pay attention. Lockhart’s calm confidence and assumed way with cards leads the audience to imagine the worst.
Acting is fine with Andy Murray’s Sharky a more solid presence for the internal tension caused by his character’s secret and Colin McPhillamy’s Richard just a tad over the top.
Matthew Broderick works hard these days at shedding his boyish image. When the actor-as-devil cites theosophy or threatens his prey, gravitas feels right. It’s just difficult to believe these men would accept someone so out of their realm without even friendly questions. The extent of Broderick’s passivity works against him when playing cards. A raised eyebrow, a gesture, an unconsciously emitted sound as comment – the smallest thing would keep us watching for more. (His single outbreak is perfect.)
Michael Broderick and Andy Murray
Director Ciaran O’Reilly handles manifesting intoxication well. Characters seem just enough out of control. Richard’s bump-a-rump down the stars, imbalance, gestures of imminent violence, and a punch read real as does the slurring of words. (Rick Sordelet-Fight Director) Players move with variety and credibility. Language could be somewhat more distinct.
Though the use of blindness as a metaphor – Richard’s actual blindness, Ivan’s loss of his eyeglasses, the group’s not recognizing Lockhart – is appealing, in the end, the play seems at fault in this production..
Charlie Corcoran (Scenic Design) has outdone himself with the mess before us. Junk by the pot-bellied stove is piled high towards the ceiling. Old newspaper and magazines are everywhere, curtains are torn, there are clothes on the floor, religious paintings on the wall, and a single significant candle in the window. Everything looks as if it’s covered in dust. Brian Nason’s Lighting deftly indicates mood, time of day and, at times, proximity of the devil.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Michael Broderick and Andy Murray
Irish Repertory Theatre presents
The Seafarer by Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through May 24, 2018