By Conor McPherson. Directed by Anthony F. Ingram. A Pacific Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, March 7. Continues until March 29
How can so much talent produce such a dull first act?
Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer is an actors’ vehicle. It’s the morning of Christmas Eve in Richard’s filthy, impoverished Dublin flat. Richard, who is blind and refuses to bathe, is waking up from another epic night of drinking. His younger brother, Sharky, who has been off booze for two days and who also lives here, is cleaning up, when their pal, Ivan, stumbles painfully out of the box room, where he slept on the floor. Later, a boyo named Nicky, who is shacking up with Sharky’s ex, arrives with a dapper stranger called Mr. Lockhart.
Consider this a spoiler alert, although you shouldn’t need one. The electric candle in the shrine to the Virgin flickers and goes out before Mr. Lockhart’s arrival. The wind is howling. Mr. Lockhart wants to play cards. Obviously, he’s a supernatural being and it’s not Santa.
There’s wit and vivacity in McPherson’s writing, and his delivery of the vernacular of Dublin’s underclass is delicious. The roles he’s written must be like blue cheese to actors: extreme, kind of disgusting, and irresistible. Under Anthony F. Ingram’s direction, this cast of five dives in with gusto—and considerable skill.
John Emmet Tracy, who delivered a monumental performance in Terminus—another Irish devil play—last season, plays Sharky, and once again he’s superb. Simply put, he goes deep. When his Sharky describes being attacked and humiliated outside a pub, Tracy grabs your heart with his stillness. Playing Richard, Ron Reed is much more flamboyant, but that’s appropriate: Richard is a more externalized mess; Reed’s flailing limbs match the character’s sloppy outbursts. Andrew McNee could articulate more clearly as Nicky, but he fills the stage with the character’s gregariousness. And John Innes makes an insinuating Lockhart. As Ivan, Tim Dixon overplays his understatement. For the most part, his portrait feels quietly authentic, but he could go further with the emotional undertow, and I suspect there’s more fun to be had with Ivan’s nearsightedness.
Overall, though, the ensemble is solid and the characterizations varied. The major problem with Act 1 seems to be the repetitive and predictable nature of the script, which goes: fetid, fetid, fetid, fetid, Satan.
There’s also a major production failing: Luke Ertman’s original score plays throughout this production, and in Act 1, where much of the pleasure comes from the rhythms of the language, it’s infuriatingly intrusive. In Act 2, which is driven more by the tension in the atmosphere, the score is more effective.
There’s some beautiful writing here, including an evocation of hell as a pit of loneliness. And within the The Seafarer’s despair, there’s also grace. I won’t give more away other than to say I found its emergence both platitudinous and welcome.
There’s a good deal to enjoy in The Seafarer, but it didn’t adequately reward the almost three hours I spent in its company.