When Ivan staggers down from upstairs, he seeks a secret nip off last night's bottle. It doesn't take long to see this is an alcoholic bunch. As Sharky cleans up after his brother's drinking bout, we find he is trying his hardest not to drink, which is no small task in this hard whiskey family.
Act one of The Seafarer is a slow mover at first. We learn a bit about Ivan and the Harkin brothers. Richard has recently gone blindsome Halloween incident involving a dumpster. By the end of the first act, the depth of the drama has unfolded. A fellow party boy, Nicky, arrives with a pal, the well-dressed Mr. Lockhart. Turns out Mr. Lockhart has some history with Sharky. Twenty-five years earlier, Lockhart let Sharky off a manslaughter charge with the promise he would return to play poker for Sharky's soul.
It turns out Mr. Lockhart is the Devil himself. This Christmas Eve, Lockhart has returned to claim his dueSharky's soul. Lockhart matches the boys' heavy drinking, which he's not used to, given the fact that he's unfamiliar with his human body. The second act plays out the ultimate poker game as Lockhart aims for Sharky's soul.
Halfway through the second act, Sharky gets a moment alone with Mr. Lockhart while the other three men run outside to chase off vagrants. Sharkey asks what it will be like, Hell. Mr. Lockhart's description is particularly harrowing.
Some have called The Seafarer the best Irish play since Samuel Beckett. I don't know. I haven't seen them all, but I can say, this is a very strong drink of whiskey. Some have called this a play about alcohol. Certainly beer, whiskeyand an even stronger homebrewplay a big role in the drama. Yet I would argue that the alcohol is incidental, more of a prop than a central character. These characters have their wits about them throughout. There is no blurriness here.
If this is not a play about alcohol, it is certainly a play about men, particularly aging men. There are no women, just five men in various forms of battle, all losing to one degree or another. It is an anti Wendy Wasserstein play. Wasserstein's women characters struggle to support each other in whatever way they can. McPherson's men look for weakness and attack. The attacks are always inept attempts to ward off the inevitable self loathing that eventually consumes these characters. The fact that Sharky finds a small piece of redemption at the end of the play is a tiny diamond in a vast wasteland.
Director Gil Lazier does a nice job. The action builds slowly, but it rises to unexpected levels of tension. While the entire cast is strong, extra praise goes to David Sinkus as Sharky. It is Sharky's tale, so the role is critical to the play's success, and Sinkus does a wonderful job. The performances are all so strong, when the actors came out for their bow, I wasn't able to readjust them out of character. That is a rare experience.
The Seafarer debuted just a few years ago. It had a good run in London followed by a good run on Broadway, nabbing a number of awards along the way. Both the London and Broadway productions were directed by McPherson himself. The Mother Road chose well for its contribution to Albuquerque's Irish Festival.
The Southwest Irish Theatre Festival runs through the Irish month of March. The Vortex presented The Cripple of Inishmaan, while The Aux Dog Theater is offering Stones in His Pockets. Coming up is Woman and Scarecrow at the Desert Rose Playhouse and Is Life Worth Living? at the Adobe Theatre.
The Mother Road Theatre Company's The Seafarer, directed by Gil Lazier, was written by Connor McPherson. The production runs at The Filling Station, 1024 4th Street SW, through April 1. Performances run Thursday and Friday at 8:00, Saturday at 6:00, and Sunday at 2 pm. General admission is $18, plus service fee or $12, plus service fee, for seniors (65, ID required) and students (ID required). For tickets, call 505-243-0596 or visit www.motherroad.org.