Review: `The Seafarer’

Nov 19

EXTEDNED THROUGH DEC. 14

The cast of Marin Theatre Company’s The Seafarer by Conor McPherson includes (from left) Julian Lopez-Morillas as Richard, Andrew Hurteau as Ivan, Andy Murray as Sharky, John Flanagan as Nicky and Robert Sicular as Mr. Lockhart. Photos by Ed Smith

 

Bedeviled on Christmas Eve in McPherson’s `Seafarer’
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The first holiday show of the season is upon us, and it’s overflowing with booze, poker and a visit from ol’ Satan himself.

Yes, it’s just another Irish Christmas by way of Conor McPherson’s rollicking The Seafarer which opened Tuesday night at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley.

It’s a fantastic production of a play that ranks among McPherson’s best, which is saying something. The author of The Weir, Dublin Carol and others is one of Ireland’s foremost playwrights and one of those assured voices that has a touch of magic to them. If you require more evidence, we’re in the midst of a minor McPherson festival. Aside from The Seafarer in Marin, SF Playhouse is winding up its scarily good production of McPherson’s Shining City.

Both Seafarer and Shining City take otherworldly routes to darkly human places. They’re fantastic in every sense but squarely grounded in the alcohol-soaked, muck-ravaged lives of people who’ve seen the good life pass by.

The past weighs heavily in The Seafarer. It’s Christmas Eve in Baldoyle, Ireland, and Sharky (Andy Murray) has returned home to care for his blind older brother, Richard (Julian Lopez-Morillas). Sharky is hardly a saint, though he’s not too shabby as a caretaker. Richard is not a kindly patient – he’s cantankerous, ornery, voluble and prone to the drink.

Sharky is, at the moment, taking a break from alcohol. He’s two days dry, and if he can just get through Christmas, he’ll be OK.

But being back in the bosom of family is enough to drive anybody to drink.

Set designer J.B.Wilson literally sets the brothers’ home in a dank Irish cave. There’s a recognizable house in there – though the brothers have basically turned it into a junk heap littered alcoholic refuse – but the overall impression is that of a dark, chilly underground lair.

How fitting, then, that as the brothers welcome some friends – Andrew Hurteau as Ivan and John Flanagan as Nicky — over for holiday cheer and a friendly poker game, that the devil, in the suave form of Mr. Lockhart (Robert Sicular, right in overcoat with Hurteau), shows up as well to claim a soul that was promised to him about 25 years earlier.

This deal-with-the-devil scenario is hardly Damn Yankees and this Christmas tale is hardly of the Carol variety, though there are certainly elements of both here.

There’s guilt, regret, drunk and disorderly conduct, hidden passions and maybe even a little redemption in this long Christmas night of the soul, but there’s also a whole lot of laughter.

Lopez-Morillas’ Richard is highly memorable – the kind of character you love to watch on stage but would never want to know (or smell) in real life. Loud and emotional, Richard is the exact opposite of his brother, a bruised (literally) man tired of being beaten by life. Murray’s great skill as an actor allows us glimpses of the man Sharky is trying to hard to be but can never quite make that breakthrough.

Sicular is devilishly good with his keenly focused gazes and his seen-it-all worldliness. His is not a sly devil – more like a drunk one who makes no bones about why he’s there and who he’s after.

The final card game, one that could result in the reclaiming of a soul, is beautifully directed by MTC artistic director Jasson Minadakis, who never lets this seemingly lumpy play out of his tight control. There’s careful orchestration at work here, and Minadakis executes McPherson’s verbal score like a master.

Hurteau as Ivan is a sad sack bundle of misery – a lousy father and husband but a good friend with a wide streak of decency in him, while Flanagan’s Nicky is a good-time guy who never met a bottle of beer he couldn’t best.

It’s a veritable full house of great actors, and they’re a joy to watch in this disarming tale of deep, dark nights, hopeful day breaks and, yes, maybe even a little genuine (and genuinely sozzled) Christmas cheer.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

The Seafarer continues through Dec. 14 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $31-$51. Call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org.

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