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The blind lead the blind: (l-r) Judd, Rogan and Deenihan in The Seafarer.

Photo: Joe Schuyler

The Holy Game of Poker

By Kathryn Geurin

The Seafarer

By Conor McPherson, directed by Terence Lamude

Capital Repertory Theater, through Nov. 1

Tis the season for harrowing tales, myths and marauders, the season for challenging darkness, for exploring the eternal struggle between humanity and evil—the legendary confrontation between man and the devil himself. And the current production of Conor McPherson’s Tony-nominated play, The Seafarer at Capital Repertory Theater tackles the contemporary take on a classic Irish fable with devilish, if occasionally histrionic, delight.

McPherson’s tale—spun from stories of Ol’ Scratch gambling for souls—delves into the darkest of comedy, as a quartet of cantankerous, damaged and drunken friends gather for a night of poker and debauchery on Christmas Eve in the dingy Baldoyle basement of recently sightless and perpetually plastered Richard Harkin (Timothy Deenihan) and his newly sober brother and begrudging but dogged caretaker “Sharky” (Peter Rogan). McPherson has crafted a relationship between the pair that is as comical as it is complex, and Deenihan and Rogan pack their performances with compelling intricacy. The two walk a precarious tightrope between viciousness and gruff affection; their banter offers the play’s best laughs and its most excruciating twinges.

Their bumbling friend Ivan Curry (Michael Judd) stumbles through the time and space in various degrees of convivial stupor; a treacherous combination of drink, hangover, and lost eyeglasses find him boisterously navigating a perpetual fog. Judd’s performance is far from subtle, but he manages to avoid caricature, creating a lively character whose broad persona functions as both performance and protection. The hapless trio’s antics comprise the core of the show—the final two characters serve as an intentional disruption—and each of the three are portrayed by Irish actors, which lends a powerful authenticity to the production. They wear the language and locale like a favorite sweater, and McPherson’s words purr in their natural brogue.

When Nicky Giblin (Declan Mooney), an old friend who has managed to commandeer seemingly everything of Sharkey’s—his ex, his children, his car—arrives with a dapper stranger introduced only as Mr. Lockhart (Edward James Hyland), they bring an edgy disquietude to the already chaotic home. Mooney offers a dynamic Giblin, and manages to layer the cocky cheese monger with poorly veiled insecurity and, in turn, sympathy. Like Judd, Mooney’s performance borders on self-aware, but the unease works for Giblin, who is as uncomfortable in his own skin as he is in Sharkey’s home.

Director Terence Lamude draws focused and forceful performances from his cast, and lets the humor of McPherson’s script play with well-timed and understated ease. However, he makes an extreme misstep in his direction of Hyland’s Mr. Lockhart. He succeeds as a warm and welcome stranger, but in the pivotal scenes where he reveals his true self and true intensions to Sharky, Hyland twists into an inexplicably overwrought and melodramatic fiend. While talk of the anguish of Hell is far from soothing, McPherson’s script calls for control from Lockhart. Lockhart must play against the text in order to offer Sharky the only calm moments in the overwhelmingly high key house—moments which should become seductive, not wildly theatrical. At one point Lockhart even conjures flashing lights and billowing smoke, in a sinister and sensational parlor trick that clashes with the general sincerity of the production.

In general, Lamude works strongly with his production team, guiding them to create a consistently ragged reality. Duke Durfee’s set is tired and warm, as beaten as the characters that inhabit it but, like them, imbued with an underlying comfort. With the exception of the aforementioned trickery, John McLain’s lighting plays perfectly with Durfee’s set, casting a dingy amber pall in the smoky basement and tightening ever so subtly on the characters in their flickers of intimacy. The costuming, by Capital Rep regular Barbara Bell is understated but wonderfully specific, creating character in every detail from Richard’s mismatched socks to Nicky’s flaunted “dogskin” jacket.

The Seafarer offers some of the best performances seen on the Capital Repertory stage in recent years. Sadly, the mischaracterization of Lockhart drains much of the potential for reflection and resonance from McPherson’s tale, but the ensemble’s carefully crafted relationships and well-played humor make the production worthwhile.

 


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