by Hugh Hunter
A boisterous drinking bout becomes tense and magical in "The Seafarer" (2006), by Conor McPherson, now running at Old Academy Players in East Falls. Directed by Christopher Wunder …
by Hugh Hunter
A boisterous drinking bout becomes tense and magical in "The Seafarer" (2006), by Conor McPherson, now running at Old Academy Players in East Falls. Directed by Christopher Wunder and produced by Tiffany Brink, this remarkable play full of lively Irish patter made its successful Broadway premiere in 2007.
Taking place on Christmas Eve in the village of Baldoyle near Dublin, two brothers ring in the holiday in the only way they know how. With Irish bravado, they take on all comers, and their bawdy drinking party runs late into the night. Then with a minimum of fuss, this raucous comedy turns into an elegant and touching fable about our need for grace and redemption.
Neighborhood locals pop in. Ivan (Norman Burnosky) is a friend who neglects his family for a drinking binge. Nicky (Phil Czekner) is the kind of character who abounds in the works of James Joyce, a man who lives an outwardly well ordered life that conceals all the ill will curled up inside.
While the locals add color, the evening belongs to the quarrelsome brothers. Vail Guiltieri creates a mournful Sharky, a man burdened with secrets and remorse. Stifled and sad, he cannot join the other revelers and turns inward. Even when he stops drinking, Sharky looks like a man who has given up.
Mike Monroe shares the spotlight in the role of Richard. Unlike his younger brother, Richard makes no attempt to restrain himself. Looking like a slob, he shouts in anger, laughs uproariously and drinks anything he can get his hands on. Even recent blindness cannot dampen his spirits, and he seems oblivious to his brother's pain.
Director Wunder doubles up as set designer. He comes up with an expressive living room where a small Christmas tree and a picture of The Sacred Heart of Jesus struggle to catch your eye among the clutter of worn furniture and the blankets, newspapers and empty liquor bottles that litter the floor.
Then, halfway through, a mysterious stranger shows up. Wearing a three-piece suit, Lockhart (Ben Kendall) is someone Ivan just met at a "shebeen" (an Irish speakeasy). With an accent more like Bela Lugosi than Irish brogue, Lockhart tells the lads he only comes out to drink and gamble on Christmas and Easter.
Played superbly by Kendall, Lockhart stares balefully at Sharky, and you know they alone are privy to a special secret. While the rollicking holiday bash goes on, something has changed, the stakes have been raised, and the ensuing poker game is absolutely riveting.
McPherson is surely one of the most gifted playwrights in contemporary theater. Following a long tradition of Irish comic-tragic storytelling, "The Seafarer" brings a smile to your face and a tear to your eye. Old Academy even had a post-performance reception with Irish delicacies to celebrate their 500th full-length production. Congratulations!
Old Academy Players is located at 3544 Indian Queen Lane. "The Seafarer" will run through March 20. Reservations available at 215-843-1109.