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A CurtainUp Review
Like Conor McPherson's Dublin Carol, produced upstairs at Steppenwolf last month (my review) , his longer, more fanciful Seafarer centers on drunken Irish failures in frantic need of a second chance on Christmas Eve. A former alcoholic, McPherson has seen the bottom of many bottles and sent back postcards. His surrogate Sharky (Francis Guinan), an accident-prone, guilt-ridden loser who singlehandedly justifies the saddest Irish stereotypes, is consumed with self-loathing. He boozes with his censorious and now-blind brother Richard (John Mahoney), his hen-pecked chum Ivan (Alan Wilder), and Nicky (Randall Newsome), his ex-wife's stew-faced new husband. Each has enough troubles to require local anesthetics acquired through pub crawling or just consumption out of a brown paper bag.
In the first act they indulge in male-bonding strategies of dominance and submission, with Richard particularly astute at passive-aggressive insults masquerading as simple observations. But, as if to raise small talk to big stakes, Nicky has brought along Mr. Lockhart (Tom Irwin). This nattily dressed stranger turns out to be the devil, eager to play cards for Sharky's soul because of an unresolved match-up they'd had a quarter century before. In the play's best passage, Lockhart secretly describes the rather unconventional hell that he will take Sharky to (through a tavern conveniently called The Hole in The Wall). It's a kind of eternal cold storage where no one will love him and he'll lack the "peace of mind" that pervades heaven.
As in The Devil and Daniel Webster, the intrigue is how Sharky can save his soul from this convivial devil who hates music but not Irish whiskey. As it turns out, the crowd-pleasing, cleverly compassionate ending, based on an implausible shift in the game's outcome, delivers the wishful thinking of A Christmas Carol. But it's too contrived to convince. The devil deserves better.
Saving the show from its script, Randall Arney's Steppenwolf staging delivers performances that are dead reckoning. Despite the shaky accents, this ensemble adeptly capture the sloppy intimacy of old friends lubricating themselves into oblivion. They all work together. -Mahoney's sly digs as the control-freak brother, Wilder's paralyzed look as Ivan considers the angry wife from whom he's temporarily escaped, and Newsome's clumsy attempts to lift idiotic anecdotes into shared legends. In contrast, there's Guinan's glum-pussed Sharky, whose lack of connections defines him more than the others' feckless bonhomie.
Finally, Irwin's loud, humorless and ultimately lonely Lockhart acts as a walking curse intent on putting Sharky out of his misery into a worse one. ("I've seen all those hopeless thoughts, buried there, in your stupid scrunched-up face." ) They deserve each other, perhaps more than the audience does this uncomfortably devout piece of sympathy for a sinner.
Links to Other McPherson Plays reviewed at Curtainup including The Seafarer in New York where many critics were ecstatic about it.
St. Nicholas - 1998
This Lime Tree Bower -1999
The Good Thief -2001
Port Authority -2001
Rum and Vodka -2002
Shining City -2006
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