Sept. 11-13, 18-20, 24-27, Oct. 2-4, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14, 2 p.m.
Lance Hall, Circular Congregational Church
150 Meeting Street
This Yuletide season, James “Sharky” Harkin has sworn off drink. It’s a bold move, one that his elder and ailing brother Richard, whiskey in hand, waves away — “He’s trying to beat Christmas!”
That’s the trouble.
One bold move really isn’t enough, though. It may be little more than the last piece of wreckage we cling to, just to keep our heads above water. Not enough to entirely save us. But it may be a start.
In Baldoyle, up the coast from Dublin, Sharky, Richard, and friends Ivan and Nicky are about to find out. As Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer opens, on the morning of Christmas Eve, one thing is clear — it’s going to be a rough day.
The first scene of this two-act play clatters with the sound of characters collecting their wits. Sharky (Rodney Lee Rogers) starts by rousing his brother (Randy Neale) whom he finds passed out on the living room floor of their scruffy flat.
As Sharky dashes around trying to sort out the room, his blind brother, and breakfast, their pal Ivan wanders in near-blind himself for lack of the eyeglasses he lost during the previous night’s drinking spree.
The scene plays out as the very picture of the morning after: in fits and starts, talking across one another, the trio, crammed into a space the size of a real living room, begin to face whatever portion of the day they can bring into focus.
Ivan (David Mandel) needs to return home to his wife and children, but can’t face doing so without his glasses. He’ll catch hell from his wife for losing them.
Sharky bends to every task Richard barks at him: one after another like a barrage of cannon-fire, each barely registered before the next demand comes along.
Richard is determined to have a proper holiday celebration and dictates to Sharky a shopping list of “bits for Christmas” that consists largely of alcohol for themselves and, Richard announces, a possible guest, Sharky’s old mate, Nicky (R.W. Smith).
This is tough news for Sharky, who also learns that Nicky’s taken up with Sharky’s old girlfriend, Eileen, and that he’s driving around the car Sharky lent her.
For the audience, this is a difficult scene to sit through. It’s manic, rudderless, and loud. The actors must play within the bounds of a scene that is as cheerful and clear as a hangover. It’s a demanding task. The scene establishes little more than how alcohol is at the center of the maelstrom and will certainly continue clouding this already bedeviled tableau. It ain’t pretty.
The Seafarer, here directed by Sharon Graci, has been called the thinking person’s version of It’s a Wonderful Life. This is something of an injustice to both Seafarer and Frank Capra’s beloved film. The conceit of that classic holiday film is a life reassessment prompted by the visitation of an angel. Here, fittingly, that visit is from a fallen angel.
Unlike the providential hand dealt to George Bailey, this one’s a tougher card to draw. As an audience, we know we’re not in for a heart-warming affirmation of life, but a pub crawl through regret and recrimination. We know this will be a battle right to the end. And in the second scene, that battle is joined with the arrival of the unexpected guest (played by Mark Landis) and the beginning of a poker game that may cost Sharky his soul.
The Seafarer might rightly be called a man’s play. Not merely because all the characters are men, but also because it trains a penetrating light on men’s failings and insecurities. In that, it closely resembles the tale of another Irish Christmas, James Joyce’s short story, “The Dead.” Seafarer, for all its fits and starts, is like “The Dead” told in reverse, moving from bleary-eyed bewilderment to something grander and, perhaps, more full of wonder.
These men’s lives are insulated by drink, to be sure. We watch them navigate troubled waters, up to their necks in a sea of booze. Their lives feel as constrained as a ship in a bottle. When they run aground, they are each other’s alibi against harsher judgement.
In the end, they all count on a few things: a willingness to cast their lot in with one another and to ante up in a larger poker game. As Richard bellows at Sharky, finally rising to his brother’s defense, “You’re alive, aren’t you? You’re alive!”
And that, too, even that little wreckage, playwright McPherson seems to say, might be just enough, enough for a start.
PURE Theatre’s cast turns in a winning performance with sincerity and increasingly steady craftsmanship, as McPherson’s nuanced and complex tale unfolds.
Audience members willing to forgo subtitles for the sometimes confounding Irishness of it all, and the desire for a censor’s bleep on some of the profanity, will be rewarded with a rich, mythic meditation on second chances and the possibility of genuine redemption.