Theater review by Misha Berson: The Seattle Repertory Theatre's staging of "The Seafarer," delivers with a fine cast, a towering set and the surprising plot of Conor McPherson's acclaimed Broadway play.
Even the most godforsaken sinner has a shot at salvation in Conor McPherson’s acutely funny, compassionate “The Seafarer.”
From the moment the curtain rises on Eugene Lee’s towering brick-house set for the Seattle Repertory Theatre’s airing of the acclaimed 2006 work, it’s clear we’re in the company of men whose lives are an utter shambles.
The sightless, grimy old sod sleeping off a binge on the couch is Richard Harkin (Sean Griffin), an embodiment of the term “blind drunk.”
Richard’s screw-up brother Sharkey (Hans Altwies), newly unemployed and reluctantly back in Dublin, can’t blame his own misfortunes on whiskey alone. But the drink hasn’t helped him any.
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Then there is Ivan (Russell Hodgkinson), a sweet, feckless fella who has crashed out on the Harkins’ floor during a bender — not for the first time, nor the last.
By the way: It’s Christmas.
Watching the crude, bombastic Richard and hapless Ivan trying to wrest Yuletide cheer from ferocious hangovers, as Sharkey struggles to stay sober and mop up their messes, can get excruciating — and excruciatingly funny, in a drunken burlesque sort of way, as staged by Seattle-native Wilson Milam (now a successful director based in London).
Inevitably, however, pathetic drunks who thrash, crash and pitch the blarney get tiresome. And that’s when McPherson brings in the big dramatic gun: Lucifer, in the form of a sleek, convivial traveler, Mr. Lockhart (Frank Corrado), eager to play poker.
The Irish drinking sprees, the Christmas “miracle,” the suspenseful game of “beat the devil” — all are well-worn staples of old-time melodrama, Eugene O’Neill dramas, Coen brothers movies, et al.
But McPherson, with nods to Pinter (vis-à-vis some recurring offstage menace) and Mamet (hilariously circular male chatter), is a stage poet with his own agenda. He finds in his tattered, self-isolated losers (and their jollier, sponging crony, Shawn Telford’s Nicky) glints of humanity worth our concern, once the comedic haze lifts and the existential reckoning begins.
McPherson’s empathy for men largely written off by others is a literary act of Christian charity, a deed that lifts all boats in “The Seafarer’s” surprising, touching denouement.
Milam has fine actors to buttress this — despite a casting glitch, reminiscent of another at the Rep recently.
A longtime Seattle resident, but native Irish to the bone, Griffin is terrific as the proudly self-deluded, domineering Richard — by turns manipulative and pathetic, kindly and cruel.
Hodgkinson crafts a quieter, finely textured portrait of Ivan, a holy fool and basically decent, but a clueless failure of a husband and father. His loss of a pair of glasses is both a perfect metaphor and a clever plot device.
Corrado lodges another winning turn as the suave, coolly calculating Lockhart. His description of an uncommonly chilly hell delivers on the most eloquent passage in McPherson’s script.
As an embattled soul of fewer words, Altwies is broodingly affecting. But he’s young for the role, more believable as Griffin’s nephew or son than his brother. That imbalance diminishes, by a notch, the credibility and power of an otherwise gratifying production.
Misha Berson: email@example.com