By: Conor McPherson
Directed By: Randall Arney
With: John Mahoney
Geffen Playhouse, LA
April 22 – May 24, 2009
Running Time: 2 hours and twenty minutes
Sometimes you just know, before you get to the theater, ‘This one’s going to be great.’ And so I set off for the Geffen planning to thoroughly enjoy The Seafarer. After all, I loved The Weir by Conor McPherson, and John Mahoney’s character, Walter, on In Treatment, is the epitome of the control freak whose anxiety has lead him into therapy but tries to run his treatment himself. Get ready to settle in and enjoy, I thought.
Sometimes things do not live up to expectations and, sadly, The Seafarer falls into this category. First produced in London, then a successful run in New York, and most recently seen at the Steppenwolf, positive expectations were not out of line. It would have been nice if it turned out to be gem. However, Seafarer is light on substance and heavy on accents (not particularly stable accents) delivered at Mamet-like speed. There is the time worn device of the devil in disguise who joins a group of men’s Christmas Eve excuse for another night of heavy booze, in an evening awash in quantities of liquor that exceed stereotypes of drunken Irishmen and which would probably, in real life, lead to alcohol poisoning severe enough to send at least two of the men to the ER. People that drunk are not great storytellers; although there were allusions to shady backgrounds for all the characters, drink seemed more central to the action. The devil was there to claim a life owed to him in a Faustian bargain made twenty years before. Without him Seafarer would have had no direction. As it was, the arc was pretty shallow.
Richard Harkin, John Mahoney, is the older brother who has recently gone blind after a dumpster dive that went awry. His brother, Sharky, Andrew Connolly, has come to take care of the smelly, inappreciative, and irascible Richard. Sharkey has led a dead end life and two days before the action has begun he has decided to become sober – sobriety, not surprisingly, yields in the face of the flow of alcohol on this Christmas Eve. John Mahoney plays Richard with fiendish glee, demanding, staggering, blindly, creating havoc, and maintaining himself as the center of attention. He like the others comes across more as a caricature than a developed character. Ivan, Paul Vincent O’Connor, is the hapless friend who crashed in an alcoholic stupor on the floor last night; he has lost his glasses, leading to a lot of silliness and, of course, more booze.
Into this mix arrives Nicky who is living with Sharky’s ex and driving his old Peugot, too – a fact Sharky seems to find more troublesome than losing his ex. Nicky has the devil-in-disguise, Mr. Lockhart, in tow. As befits a devil, Tom Irwin, as Mr. Lockhart, is smarmy and smooth. He has come to collect the indebted soul in a game of poker. He takes his time and his brews at a leisurely pace, mysteriously revealing he knows a great deal about every one. All assembled have agreed that poker is a fine way to spend Christmas Eve, almost traditional as it were. From a dramatic point of view the game could not have come at a better time. At last something happened. There is a bit of a twist at the end of Act II, thank heavens, but I’ll leave that for intrepid theater-goers to discover on their own.
If an expectation is a disappointment waiting to happen, then I would say The Seafarer fits the description. A lot of talent fills the stage, but the play itself is sorely lacking. A glass of Irish whiskey provided a welcome antidote when all was said and done.