Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Seafarer

THE SEAFARER, an Irish saga at Dobama

The Irish are noted for, among other things, being hearty drinkers, tellers of tall tales, participants in physical conflict, and believers in fantasy, redemption, fate, Catholicism, and escapes from reality.

THE SEAFARER by Conor McPherson, one of the newer Irish playwrights, is now in production at Dobama Theatre. McPherson has proven with his naturalistic style of writing, that he can follow in the paths of Shaw, Singe, Joyce and Beckett in creating a story that fits true Irish traditions.

In THE SEAFARER, McPherson writes a dark Christmas fable which reflects despair and a descent into oceanic depths of drunkenness. It concerns characters who spend their lives in alcoholic hazes, dependent upon each other to get through life. These are men who find it necessary to use booze as an anesthetic to protect themselves from reality.

It’s Christmas evening in Baldoyle, a coastal settlement north of Dublin. The setting is the run-down, unkempt home of Richard Harkin and his brother Sharky. The duo has a long history of sibling rivalry. Sharkey has recently returned home after being sacked from his chauffeuring job for being involved with his employer’s wife. The tale reaches its apex when a drunken quartet of men, and a mysterious stranger, play a game of poker with more than money at stake.

As we observe, many of the characters are rudderless and blind. In the case of Richard, his blindness is real. On Halloween he fell in a dumpster causing the physical damage. His younger brother, Sharky is blinded by living life transitioning from one drunken rage to another. Ivan, a constant presence in the house, feels his way through life, hiding constantly from reality. Ivan has lost his glasses and can’t see clearly. This lack of clarity causes a major plot turn. Nicky, who is spending time with Sharky’s ex, acts and dresses flamboyantly, is a constant bane for Sharky, and seems blind to reality.

Who is the mysterious Mr. Lockhart, a man of refined appearance, with a stiff exterior. He has a secret, that centers on an action which transpired 25 years ago while Sharkey was in prison for killing a vagrant.

Dobama’s production, under the direction of Scott Miller, is on one hand compelling, on the other, inconsistent. Miller fails to aid some of the actors in texturing their performances. Several yell throughout with little inner motivation. There is also some inconsistency in pacing and consistent accents. On the other hand, the quality of writing, the plot development and several fine performances keep the long play interesting.

Joel Hammer makes the rage-filled Sharky, totally his. The underlying and expressive rage are well developed and textured. This is an excellent portrayal.

Larry Nehring is compelling as the pathetic Ivan. He clearly portrays the husband, father and drunk, who has difficulty with the realities of life.

Bernard Canepari’s Richard is properly frustrated, but the actor fails to vary his performance. He yells and yells and yells. There is also the problem of his stumbling over the lines.

Tom Woodward makes for an acceptable Nicky, but doesn’t create a crystal clear character. Who Nicky really is doesn’t come out.

Charles Kartali feigns as Mr. Lockhart. He looks stern and unyielding, presents his lines with fidelity, but misses the needed underlying devilish quality. There are times when he sounds more east coast U.S than Irish.

David Tilk’s set design works well as does Marcus Dana’s lighting.

Capsule judgement: THE SEAFARER is an Irish play which gives a vivid picture of the frustrations of life on the Emerald Isles. Dobama’s production has some fine performances. Though it is very well worth seeing, some may find it overlong and lacking in clarity.