Also see Susan's review of The Little Dog Laughed
Irish playwright Conor McPherson uses language as a form of musical expression, enjoying the pleasure of its sound and phrasing as well as its meaning. His dark comedy The Seafarer, now receiving an exemplary production at Washington's Studio Theatre, is an ensemble piece, a quintet for voices, four rough and colloquial, the other deceptively smooth.
Director Paul Mullins has the advantage of working with a cast of outstanding actors: Washington favorites Floyd King, Edward Gero, and Philip Goodwin join Studio newcomers Billy Meleady and Jeff Allin. Together, they bring a deep humanity to McPherson's story of men coping with their demons, both metaphorical and real.
In a shabby house north of Dublin, designed with both wit and intricate detail by Russell Metheny, James "Sharky" Harkin (Meleady) lives with his recently blinded brother Richard (King). It's Christmas Eve, and the brothers are stocking up on liquor for a marathon poker game with their friends Ivan (Gero), henpecked and sweetly befuddled, and Nicky (Allin), who has taken up with Sharky's ex-wife. But Nicky brings along a sleek, well-groomed stranger named Mr. Lockhart (Goodwin), whounbeknownst to the othershas some unfinished business with Sharky.
McPherson gives each character a chance to show off, and the actors, guided by Mullins, make the most of their opportunities. Most strikingly, Goodwin makes the interesting choice of portraying a devil who is as lost and despondent, in his way, as the poor sinners he meets. He lives in isolation, envying the warm connections among friends who would do anything for each other.
Through nuance, the other actors distinguish themselves as individuals rather than versions of the stereotyped hard-drinking Irishman. Meleady, as a man fighting to stay in control of himself, visibly tamps down his anger and frustration; King whines and scolds hilariously; Gero suggests a large, unkempt sheepdog, flopping on the furniture and searching vaguely for his lost glasses; and Allin makes a pathetic attempt at dressing stylishly and parading his ostensible success. Helen Q. Huang's costume designs are dead-on as they help to define each character.