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The Seafarer

Theatre Review by David Hurst - April 18, 2018

Matthew Broderick and Andy Murray
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Though spring is still struggling to arrive, and Christmas is still eight long months away, the Irish Repertory Theatre is giving us an early gift in the form of its terrific new revival of Conor McPherson's contemporary spin on holiday strife, The Seafarer. Astutely directed by Ciarán O'Reilly with a stellar cast of seasoned actors, this Seafarer, which will amuse you and chasten you in equal measure, is welcome at any time of year.

First staged at the National in London in 2006 and on Broadway the following year, The Seafarer revolves around five poker-playing, Irish drunks who end up at the ramshackle, broken-down home of the Harkin brothers for a Christmas Eve of cards, debauchery and Mephistophelian revelations. The younger Harkin brother, ‘Sharky' (a superb Andy Murray), has returned home to care for his now blind, older brother Richard (the relentlessly critical Colin McPhillamy) who lost his sight recently after falling into a dumpster. Sharky's at loose ends after being let go from his job as a chauffeur to a wealthy couple after becoming a bit too fond of the wife. He's also trying not to drink which becomes problematic when a party of sorts materializes in the form of Richard's bumbling friend Ivan Curry (deliciously played by Michael Mellamphy) who's lost his glasses in his stupor from the night before, along with Nicky Giblin (the handsome yet feckless Tim Ruddy) and his friend Mr. Lockhart (stage and screen star Matthew Broderick). Adding tension to the evening is the fact Nicky is now living with Sharky's ex and driving Sharky's car. His friend Mr. Lockhart recognizes Sharky and the evening's stakes get ratcheted up when Lockhart is revealed to be more than he appears.

After several questionable outings on Broadway and off-Broadway in recent years, it's a pleasure to report Matthew Broderick is giving a taught, understated performance as Mr. Lockhart, complete with a solid Irish brogue. Since he spent his childhood summers in Ireland and owns a vacation home there with his family, the Irish rhythms and cultural milieu have obviously rubbed off on him which only contributes to his carefully modulated characterization. Where Ciaran Hinds, who played Lockhart on Broadway in 2007, had a more menacing streak, Broderick employs a more ‘everyman' quality to his portrayal that fits seamlessly with O'Reilly's far more humorous production. When he finally turns angry at the play's climax, his eyes flash with the kind of rage that could burn the theatre to the ground. It's nice to see Broderick back in top form despite the observation his ‘star' presence throws off the balance of the ensemble—but only slightly.

Famously, Jim Norton won both the Olivier and Tony Award for his tart, peevish portrayal of older brother Richard in The Seafarer. In the Irish Rep revival, Colin McPhillamy is similarly wondrously irritating, but there's more balance with Andy Murray who portrays his younger brother, Sharky. In a revelatory performance, Murray, who resembles the action-star Jason Statham, quickly realizes the trouble he's in with Lockhart. As his desperation turns to resignation, his portrayal of a man who's run out of chances is as heartbreaking as it is chilling. As McPhillamy's criticisms and insults mount, you can visibly see Murray physically and emotional wince at his brother's pointed barbs. His face at the play's conclusion reflects the kind of redeeming grace we could all use more of in these troubled times. As the flowers and trees begin to bloom, you may not think you want to see an Irish tale of alcoholism, loss and redemption, but you'd be wrong.

The Seafarer
Through May 24
Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix