Review: `The Seafarer’


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.


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

Review: `Shining City’

Opened Oct. 4, 2008, SF Playhouse

Paul Whitworth (left) is John, a grief-stricken widower, and Alex Moggridge is Ian, a fledgling therapist in the SF Playhouse production of Conor McPherson’s Shining City, a grand Irish ghost story. Photos by Zabrina Tipton


Ghosts go bump in McPherson’s luminous `Shining City’

SF Playhouse opens its sixth season with a roaring good ghost story.

Even better, Shining City is an intelligent ghost story from the mind and pen of Conor McPherson, one of Ireland’s best contemporary playwrights, and it is directed by Amy Glazer, one of the Bay Area’s most insightful and reliable directors.

In any discussion of a ghost story, the less you know going into it, the better. But know this: Glazer gets deep inside McPherson’s story and finds sympathetic rhythms that lead to a series of surprises.

This is a first-class production with solid talent in front of and behind the footlights. SF Playhouse artistic director Bill English handled set design chores, and this is one of his best: an old brick office building in Dublin, the office of newly hatched therapist Ian, who has barely had time to unpack all the boxes before he sees his first patient.

The realistic office, which features a large central window looking out onto a bleak Dublin city scene dominated by a cathedral spire, reflects a realistic tone in McPherson’s play that is vital for the ghost story to gain some traction.

Alex Moggridge plays Ian, the therapist and Paul Whitworth, formerly the artistic director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, is his primary patient, John.

Whitworth carries the weight of the play in terms of dialogue. Like many a McPherson play (The Weir, Dublin Carol), there are some heavy-duty monologues, and as a patient spilling his emotional soul to his therapist, it’s logical that he would do a lot of talking.

But what’s really interesting about Shining City is that McPherson, who tends to favor a good ghost story, is putting himself on the examination table and exploring just what it is about ghosts and the mere idea of ghosts that is so titillating and terrifying.

For Ian, the whole ghost thing is less about reality and more about our relationship with God – we want desperately to know there’s something more out there, and ghosts, in their spooky way, are proof of another dimension.

For John, ghosts are more about guilt – a sort of self-induced shock therapy that forces us to confront our truest and deepest emotions. Ghosts, in short, can be useful, and McPherson utilizes them in a sort of roundabout way toward redemption.

They can also bedevil the stage. It’s difficult – almost impossible, I’d say – to scare a live theater audience with a ghost story. You can chill us, maybe, but actually scare us? That’s a tall order.

But Shining City manages the trick quite handily. I won’t say where or when, but mixed in with the intelligent script, the beautifully nuanced performances and the intriguing plot twists, there’s a heckuva good scare.

Glazer follows McPherson’s lead and keeps the focus on the emotions of the story. Whitworth and Moggridge’s scenes together are masterful. It’s possible John’s lengthiest monologue could be trimmed, but it’s all about rhythm and the way important pieces of his story – an adulterous liaison followed by a ghastly tragedy – come trickling out.

Beth Wilmurt and Alex Conde shake things up in supporting roles that help us get to know Ian a little better, and then there’s the ghost, of course, who scares up some pretty intense emotions.

There’s not a theater better suited to this Irish ghost story than SF Playhouse, an intimate space that makes you feel like you’re up there on the therapist’s couch with John. Ensconced in the confines of that office, you relax into the conversation, but then you’re also trapped when it gets scary.

Remember, in a theater full of people, everyone can hear you scream.

Photo at right: Moggridge (left) undergoes a different kind of therapy with Alex Conde as Laurence. Photo by Zabrina Tipton.


Shining City continues through Nov. 22 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St. San Francisco. Tickets are $40. Call 415-677-9596 or visit for information.