Dec 11, 2019
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
It may not seem like a holiday show at first, even though it takes place on Christmas Eve, with its tough characters and setting. Irish playwright Conor McPherson concocts a darkly comic tale designed to stop us in our holiday-making tracks and invite consideration of the season’s deeper meaning. Evoking laughter and somber thought in equal measure,The Seafarer shines in an exceptional staging at Main Stage West through December 21, providing a welcome change of scene for the holidays.
“Sharky” Harkin (Edward McCloud) returns to his childhood home in a coastal town north of Dublin to care for his older brother, Richard (John Craven), whose recent accident has left him blind. Longtime friend Ivan (Kevin Bordi) has been lending a hand until Sharky could extricate himself from a chauffeuring gig in the South and make his way back. At play’s opening, it’s the morning of December 24th, and both Richard and Ivan suffer hangovers, having partied hard the night before; but Sharky is stone cold sober due to his recent resolution to swear off alcohol.
As the play progresses we learn more of these hapless characters, their struggles, their pasts and relationships, their grimy, meager existence laced with loads of satirical Irish humor and washed down with whiskey. Sharky, grimly resigned to caring for his brother, receives a present in the mail from his prior employer’s wife, hinting at something illicit; Richard bemoans his blindness but clearly rules the roost, wielding his disability like a whip to enforce compliance; and Ivan miserably avoids his family at home, wondering why his wife gets upset at his carousing ways.
It’s all lamentable but also laughable; and then the trio is joined by erstwhile friend Nicky (Anthony Abaté) and a stranger he met in a pub— nattily dressed Mr. Lockhart (Keith Baker), affable enough, clearly well-heeled and up for game. That would be poker, for which Nicky brought him along, to fill the table at the Harkin Christmas Eve tradition. In a moment when the others are out, Mr. Lockhart suddenly informs Sharky of a sinister secret, rocking Sharky to the core; his very soul is in jeopardy.
More cannot be revealed without spoiling the spine-tingling tension and plot twists of Act Two. McPherson works his Irish magic, keeping us on edge until the very end. The audience’s glow of appreciation for the tale’s surprising finale is palpable, and elicited a standing ovation at the performance I attended. For all its rough edges, foul language and hard drinking, the play contains more Christmas than many holiday shows, putting a genuine star atop life’s prickly tree.
The superb cast creates real chemistry between these thorny characters, keeping them utterly authentic and human. Their likability factor waxes and wanes, but their vulnerability enlists our empathy. Five excellent actors perform brilliant service in a play that could easily go wrong. Director David Lear deserves praise for spot-on casting and staging, adroitly worked dynamics and fine-tuned emotional arcs.
Lear also designs a functionally claustrophobic set, managing several entrances in the tiny home, along with enough space for characters to posture, stand apart, and even fight. The messy, typical bachelor pad, still infused with parental presence, is also adorned with a scruffy Christmas tree that becomes so much more. Missy Weaver’s lighting design subtly enhances each scene and time of day. Sound design by Doug Faxon accentuates action to perfection, heightening tension as needed.
It’s a hard sell, this dark Irish humor during the holiday season; but McPherson’s magical play, an excellent cast and masterful production bring it to life and spin it into seasonal gold.
N.B. Not recommended for children other than very mature teenagers.
by Conor McPherson
Presented by Main Stage West through December 21, 2019
Thu/Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Main Stage West
104 N. Main Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472
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