note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi
James “Sharky” Harkin … David Adkins
Richard Harkin … Gordon Joseph Weiss
Ivan Curry … Jim Frangione
Mr. Lockhart … Mark Zeisler
Nicky Giblin … Allyn Burrows
THE SEAFARER, at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, is the third Conor McPherson play that I’ve attended, thus far; the others being THE WEIR and DUBLIN CAROL. I’ve seen THE WEIR in two different productions and remember only its Irish mood, mood, and more mood; DUBLIN CAROL, on the other hand, is a marvelous vehicle for a character actor and should I ever have to choose one --- just one! --- performance in the Boston area for unsurpassed, hands-down, no-question excellence, that would be Richard McElvain’s portrayal of John, CAROL’s spruce but seedy undertaker in the Nora Theatre’s production, six years ago. THE SEAFARER falls in between WEIR and CAROL, i.e., Irish mood meets character study at Christmastime: Sharky and Richard, two Mutt & Jeff brothers, dutifully and combatively plan their holiday festivities: Sharky, a recovering alcoholic with a checkered past, has returned to Dublin to look after Richard, recently blinded in an accident; Richard’s sidekick Ivan (missing his eyeglasses --- and in the doghouse, to boot) and Sharky's rival Nicky (married to Sharky’s ex-wife) join the brothers for an evening of cards and drink; Nicky brings along a certain Mr. Lockhart who once played cards with Sharky, long ago, and favors a rematch. Halfway through an Act One of booze, blarney and “Oy-rishness”, with each character a Lost Boy in his own way, THE SEAFARER jolts onto another plane when Mr. Lockhart reveals to Sharky who he really is and what he really wants --- a jolt all the more startling within its setting of dank realism right down to its poor excuse of a Christmas tree. Act Two’s card game thus has a drive to it, and THE SEAFARER’s unexpected ending is a clenched fist relaxing into an outstretched hand.
For a play that has been described as “a midnight-black comedy”, I found the Merrimack production heavy-handed and wandering; the actors are soloists strung together --- not blended --- as an ensemble and, THE SEAFARER being more talk than action, director Charles Towers reduces them to statues whenever one of them has a Big Speech to deliver (so much for dank realism!); such uneveness exposes the nuts and bolts of Mr. McPherson’s stagecraft: when characters exit to bathroom, kitchen or alley, they remain offstage until needed again, long past such activities’ normal time span. David Adkins’s Sharky is so remote that I was surprised when Mr. Lockhart hauled him in as THE SEAFARER’s leading man. Mr. Adkins’ belated fireworks in Act Two should have been hinted at, earlier, for greater impact: when Sharky breaks his abstinence prior to taking on Mr. Lockhart, there should be a ripple in the audience (“finally!”) --- to his credit, Mr. Adkins exploded quite nicely. Meanwhile, Gordon Joseph Weiss happily (shamelessly?) chewed the plum role of Richard, the audience’s favorite; in contrast, Jim Frangione played Ivan as a humble potato and lumbered off with my vote. However Mr. McPherson may have perceived the role of Nicky, Allyn Burrows’ elegance (a fine Shakespearean, he) resulted in a likeable yet clueless chap --- nor did Mr. Burrows give any hint of slumming, thank you. Mark Zeisler’s Mr. Lockhart remains the same piss-elegant thug, before and after his revelation, and Mr. Lockhart's description of his home is disappointingly in tune with the self-loathing, guilt-ridden world of THE SEAFARER (and, may I safely assume, most contemporary Irish and Irish-American drama?) --- Mr. Zeisler’s big speech would have been more compelling had he, the Spider, played directly to Mr. Adkins, the Fly, rather than the two of them face the audience in Readers Theatre fashion. At least Mr. Towers has the common sense to keep Mr. Weiss planted in his armchair --- the character is blind, after all…