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A CurtainUp Review
The Ferryman

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. . .a man who takes care of his family, is a man who can look himself in the eye in the morning.
— Quinn Carney, former Irish Republican Army member turned farmer who has indeed cared for his large extended family which has included the wife and son of his younger brother Seanus since he became one of the Irish Republican Army's "disappeared" 10 years ago.
The Ferryma
The Cast (Photo: Joan Marcus)
If ever the word "epic" is fitting rather than an over-used cliché, Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman is it. It's a 3-hour long, 3-act saga about a big extended Irish family — a whopping 21 characters. . . 24 if you count a baby, a large goose, a small rabbit and an adorable infant—all live.

Since joys and sorrows experienced by three generations of Carneys range over Northern Ireland's decades of violence the 30 years of violence, The Ferryman is also a tense political drama revolving around the disappearance, and probable death, of 20-year-old Seamus Carney ten years before the play's 1981 time frame. If you know your Irish history that was at the height of the hunger strikes by Irish Republican prisoners to protest the Thatcher government's withdrawal of Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners.

While describing The Ferryman as an epic is not a cliché, the interactions between all those characters, in and out of the spacious family room and kitchen and up and down a sky high stairway, dish up plenty of Irish story-telling cliches (Easily available and much used whiskey glasses and bottles, nostalgic yarn spinning, wistful folk songs and exuberant dancing). And the plot's political thriller aspects become increasingly melodramatic.

Clichéd! Melodrama! Am I disagreeing with all the critics who've so far raved about The Ferryman?

Nope. Butterworth's look at the impact of the Northern Ireland "troubles" on a County Armagh family in 1981 is so filled with rich dialogue and well defined, marvelously portrayed characters that, even when they lean towards the stereotypical and clichéd, their words and actions manage to feel integral and, yes, necessary. Actually, through the oldest Carneys' recollections, the country's violence based losses go back all the way to the turn of the 20th Century when another fighting Carney man being killed.

As for the menacing political situation, its veering towards melodrama makes for a finale that's as inevitable as it is gut-wrenchingly stunning. Playwright Butterworth and director Sam Mendes have created a short but effectively atmospheric and revelatory prologue to establish the discovery of Seamus Carney's body and the Irish Republican Leader Muldoon's (Stuart Graham) plan for preventing it from becoming an inconvenient PR problem at the height of the hunger strike. That mood-setting scene shifts to the harvest festivities and main setting, the large woodsy farmhouse that will bring on all the Carneys, their Corcoran cousins, and a simple minded but deeply devoted English friend and neighbor.

The writing, direction, performances and top drawer design work bring out the full flavor of this multi-generation filled home. It's hard to single out just one or two standouts since Butterworth has given each a distinct personality.

Essentially the central character is Quinn (a Paddy Considine)f, the former IRA man who now support the large clan as a successful barley and wheat farmer. Considine best known for his film and TV work, is an impressive and charismatic stage actor. While his wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly) unlike the "disappeared" Seamus is very much alive. In fact, three of their seven children were born after Seamus's disappearace and their taking his wife (probable widow) and son. But Mary is a different kind of "disappeared" — her constant and suspiciously psychosomatic viruses have caused her to disappear from being an active member of the family. One of the play's most potent scenes bring out the real cause for this "disappearnance" of the closeness and openness of this relationship.

As pivotal to the tensions beneath the raucous gaiety in the Carney home, is Seami's wife (now widow) Caitlin Carney (Laura Donnelly, in a remarkably intense build-up of powerful feelings) and her discontented, volatile teen-aged son, Oisin (Rob Malone).

The oldest generation is represented by the hilariously acerbic diehard Irish republican Aunt Patricia (Dearbhla Molloy); Aunt Maggie "Far Away"{Fionnula Flanagan) who emerges from her own "disappeared" state long enough to share wistful remembrances; and cheery Uncle Patrick Carney (Mark Lambert) with his mythical tales that include the ferryman of the the River Stix from whom the play takes its title.

Unlike a lot of playwrights who would limit tween and teen Carneys and Corcorans to walk-on parts, Butterworth has written important speaking parts for all of them. As a matter of fact, there's a truly memorable scene that sees the Carney boys and their cousins who've come from Derry to help with the harvest have a whiskey fueled gab fest that demonstrates the continuing effect of the "Troubles" conflict on their lives.

As interesting as the playwright giving showcase parts to very young actors, he's also ratcheted up the importance of another character, Tim Kettle (Justin Edwards), who in a less panoramic play would be decidedly more minor. Here he not only amuses with his pockets ever filled with the apples he grows, but breaks our hearts with his hopeless infatuation and also performs a shocking act of violence.

I'll admit I could have done with a few less songs and somewhat shorter monologues from the uncle and aunts, but given that this is such a well conceived and executed theatrical package, the more than three hours I spent at the Bernard R Jacobs Theatre passed a lot faster and more enjoyably than a lot of 90-minute shows I've seen.

. Oher Jeff Butterworth Plays produced in New York and reviewed at Curtainup:
Jerusalem
The River
Parlor Song
Night Heron-ny
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PRODUCTION NOTES
The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth
Directed by Sam Mendes

Cast: Dean Ashton (Frank Magennis), Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney) Laura Donnelly (Caitlin Carney), Justin Edwards (Tim Kettle), Fra Fee (Michael Carney), Fionnula Flanagan (Aunt Maggie "Far Away), Tom Glynn-Carney (Shane Corcoran), Stuart Graham (Muldoon), Mark Lambert (Uncle Patrick Carney) Carla Langley (Shena Carney), Matilda Lawler (Honor Carney),Conor MacNeill (Diarmaid Corcoran), Rob Malone (Oisin Carney), Michael Quinton McArthur (Declan Corcoran), Willow Mc Carthy (Mercy Carney),Dearbhla Molloy (Aunt Patricia Carney), Genevieve O'Reilly (Mary Carney), Brooklyn Shuck (Nuni Carney), Glenn Speers (Lawrence Malone), Niall Wright (James Joseph Carney), Sean Frank Coffey, Theo Ward Dunsmore,Cooper homes, Rafael West Alles (Bobby Carney)

Designer (set and costumes): Rob Howell
Lighting design: Peter Mumford
Sound designer and composer: Nick Powell
Choreography: Scarlett Mackmin
Hair, wigs, makeup design: Campbell Young Associates
Animal Trainer: William Berloni
US Fight Director: Thomas Schall
US Dialect Coach Deborah Hecht

Stage Manager: Jill Cordle
Running Time: Approx. 3 hours and 15 minutes, including 1 intermission and a brief pause before Act 3
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre 242 W. 45th Street 212-239-6200
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/24 press performanc


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