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St. Louis by Richard Green

The Seafarer
West End Players Guild

Also see Bob's review of Sunday in the Park With George

The Seafarer
Barry Hyatt, Robert Ashton, Charles Heuvelman, John Reidy and Matt Hanify
You know what it's like: you go to a big show at a big, prestigious theater, and pay a big price for your ticket, only to end up having a "little" experience. Still, you can boast to your friends that you went to a big show at a big theater. It sounds good. It even feels good to tell them how much you paid and how disappointed you were: like a kind of self-directed Schadenfreude. Better to stay home, everyone will conclude, on a Saturday night.

But a really dedicated theatergoer will also know the opposite feeling: you go to a little theater, to see a little show, and (to your delight) have a huge experience and a wonderful time. You can still tell your friends about your great experience at a very unassuming venue they've probably never even heard of. But there is no pre-existing equivalent German term. And if you didn't pay $80 or more for your seat, well, most of those friends probably won't be interested anyway.

So, go see The Seafarer, the grotesque, outstanding new show at West End Players Guild, then tell everyone you know. And find out who your real friends are.

About halfway in, though, I had the sudden realization that it was all a grand Irish pub legend: a horrific confabulation that could only be told with ale on the breath. Four friends north of Dublin in 2007 carry on like kids, happily destroying their lives with alcohol and gambling and the occasional bit of tribal violence, in a room that looks like it was carved out of a bad liver. But when a strange visitor shows up for a decisive game of poker on Christmas Eve, to fulfill the terms of an old contract, things turn unexpectedly dark.

Maybe it's the overwhelming sense of inward and outward male struggle, or the strange poetry of the Devil, when he shows up to describe the inevitable fate of Sharky, played by Matt Hanify. Mr. Hanify plays it very close to the vest, in this church basement theater, but his compatriots more than fill the gap, theatrically: Robert Ashton is his brother, an exuberant, filthy drunk who's blinded himself in a foolish accident; Charles Heuvelman plays a hopeless slip of a man, half-blind, who's always bargaining for more time with his drinking buddies, and away from his wife and kids. And John Reidy is Sharky's rival, having taken away his ex-wife and his car, and now brought in the Lord of Darkness.

I've heard of Barry Hyatt for many years, but somehow never actually seen him on stage. It turned out to be worth the wait of twenty years or so. As Satan, he is an exceedingly polite and humble little leprechaun, in a beautiful camel hair coat and a very nice double-breasted tan suit and hat, with a dashing red tie. Fastidious and extremely careful not to offend or be any trouble at all, Mr. Hyatt's presence somehow manages to become suspenseful and frightening long before he ever gets Sharky alone, to handle some unfinished business.

Robert Ashton, as the recently blinded, roaring drunk brother, gives meticulous care to his role, despite the obvious bold strokes of color. Charles Heuvelman scores points for sheer naturalness and the kind of performance that inspires a kind of horror, at how unselfconsciously a man can let himself go. And John Reidy is great as the "man in the middle" who gets painfully squeezed, even as he's unwittingly helped the devil at his own game.

Director Steve Callahan must have had a pretty terrific time arranging the cacophony of energies and humiliations into a celebration that's strangely festive and death defying. Every minute or so, some new facet of the show or the characters is revealed like the glinting of diamond (or emerald), as Conor McPherson's story follows the incredible waste of humanity, and the outrageous glory of old friendships that redeems them in spite of it, along with the dread of forgotten obligations.

Through January 15, 2012, at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Ave., Saint Louis, MO 63108 (about a block north of Delmar). For more information visit them on\line at www.westendplayers.org.

Cast
Sharky: Matt Hanify
Richard: Robert Ashton
Ivan: Charles Heuvelman
Nicky: John Reidy
Mr. Lockhart: Barry Hyatt

Crew
Director: Steve Callahan
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Bob Nickles
Set Design & Construction: Mark Wilson
Lighting Design: Steve Callahan
Costume Design: Colleen Heneghan
Light Board Operator: Amy Ruprecht-Belt
Dialect Consultant: Jerry Moloney (Diarmuid Ó Maoldomhnaigh)
Graphic Design & Postcard: Marjorie Williamson
Photography: John Lamb
Box Office Manager: Jane Abling
House Managers: Dorothy & Jerry Davis
Program: Sean Ruprecht-Belt

Photo by John Lamb


-- Richard T. Green

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