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A CurtainUp Review
By Jacob Horn
The play's windy, stormy Dublin setting hardly seems too different from a blustery, rainy New York. Yet McPherson offers an understated fantasy that's unexpectedly transporting. As in other works of his, including The Weir and Shining City, McPherson begins with a focus on day-to-day, usually working-class life and then unsettles with hints of supernatural forces at work.
Here, James "Sharky" Harkin (Andy Murray), recently dismissed from a job in County Clare, has returned to the city and now helps to take care of his brother Richard (Colin McPhillamy), whose eyesight was claimed by a drunken accident. On the day before Christmas, they host their friend Ivan (Michael Mellamphy) as well as Sharky's one-time rival Nicky (Tim Ruddy) for a card game.
Nicky shows up with an extra guest, the mysterious Mr. Lockhart (Matthew Broderick). He knows Sharky, even though Sharky doesn't seem to know him. It turns out that the two made a deal a few years back, and as Lockhart reveals his true identity, it becomes clear that there's something much bigger at stake in this card game than a few Euros: Sharky's soul.
McPherson's plays are often praised for their naturalistic dialogue, and The Seafarer is no exception. The script is sharp and witty, strengths that shine brightly under Ciarán O'Reilly's direction. Each of the four ordinary Dubliners feels like a genuine individual rather than a mouthpiece for the playwright's own voice. McPhillamy, Mellamphy, Murray, and Ruddy comfortably inhabit these roles with all the tenderness and aggression that can coexist in friendships that have spanned good and bad times over many years.
In this group, Broderick's Lockhart sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite the self-assurance Lockhart can possess as an immortal entity, he betrays a subtle discomfort in the human realm through his cautious demeanor. He is further at odds with the other men in his style of dress (Martha Hally designed the costumes) and his diction and accent (Stephen Gabis served as dialect coach).
All of this gives Lockhart a strange fragility, which makes an extended monologue of his in the second act particularly compelling. It is at this point that Broderick shows the monstrosity of this character while avoiding performing as obviously "bad" or "evil."
Where Lockhart and the other men meet, The Seafarer isn't entirely subtle. The role of the supernatural is much more overt than in a play like The Weir, in which ghosts are figures in stories rather than people who might walk into the room. But just because the demon is real doesn't mean he isn't allegorical, too. Lockhart comes directly from a past Sharky has been running from, and the threat he poses may simply be to unleash Sharky's worst impulses, letting the man be his own undoing.
McPherson is a deft deployer of magical realism, and the production design—including scenic design by Charlie Corcoran, lighting design by Brian Nason, and sound design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab—create an environment full of potential energy. The stage centers on an immaculately cluttered living room, the detritus suggesting memories forgotten and thrown away. (It's also telling that the wall decorations are mostly religious icons and a Jameson ad.) The lights and sound help to realize a storm outside the house that evokes the turbulence inside.
In a sense, the whole world is a projection of Sharky's own struggle, and yet it never feels much like artifice. As with any supernatural tale, of course, there's a temptation to debate if a figure like Mr. Lockhart is "real." But such concerns are of little importance in McPherson's world. In his hands, spectres are an everyday occurrence, more natural than supernatural. It's human nature, specifically, that gives them their power, full as it is of fallibility and vulnerability. Sharky is haunted, and hunted, by his past, by his deeds, by his worldview.
The Seafarer operates on both metaphoric and literal planes, leaving a satisfying whole ripe with complexity. And here, truly, the devil is in the detail.
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The Seafarer by Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciarán O'Reilly
with Matthew Broderick (Mr. Lockhart), Colin McPhillamy (Richard Harkin), Michael Mellamphy (Ivan Curry), Andy Murray (James "Sharky" Harkin), and Tim Ruddy (Nicky Giblin)
Scenic Design: Charlie Corcoran
Costume Design: Martha Hally
Lighting Design: Brian Nason
Sound Design: Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab
Original Music: Ryan Rumery
Properties: Deirdre Brennan
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Production Stage Manager: Jeff Davolt
Assistant Stage Manager: Kate Mandracchia
Running Time: 2 hour and 15 minutes with an intermission
Irish Repertory Theatre, Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage, 132 West 22nd Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues)
Tickets: $50–$70, www.irishrep.org or (212) 727-2737
From 3/30/2018; opened 4/18/2018; closing 5/24/2018
Performance times: Wednesdays at 3 and 8 pm, Thursdays at 7 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 4/15/2018 performance
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