By William Wolf


The devil arrives on Christmas eve to play cards for the soul of a man in his home in Baldoyle, County Dublin, Ireland. The devil, given his power, presumably holds all the cards and even with two badly losing hands as he lies in wait, we by then know that he is a force demanding respect.

“The Seafarer,” a play by Conor McPherson, was previously on Broadway (See Theater under Search for my review) in a production of The National Theatre of Great Britain with the author directing. This time Matthew Broderick is cast as the devil in the person of Mr. Lockhart, who is brought to the home of James ‘Sharky’ Harkin, by Nicky Giblin (Tim Ruddy). Nobody is aware of who Lockhart is, but Sharky, firmly played by impressive Andy Murray, learns the hard way when alone and confronted by Lockhart, who announces, “I’ve come for your soul.”

For a good part of the way “The Seafarer” is an orgy of drinking, with boozer-in-chief Richard, Sharky’s brother, portrayed larger than life by the dynamic Colin McPhillamy. Richard has lost his eyesight, and is dependent on others to help him, here notably by Ivan Curry, another with a thirst for alcohol, played accordingly by Michael Mellamphy.

The setting for all that happens is an elaborate mess of a place, designed by Charlie Corcoran. It comes across as an unusually spacious set for the small stage of the Irish Rep. It works well, with its stairs leading up to the unseen entrance and other rooms.

The excellent actors make the most of McPherson’s humor while we gradually learn about the pasts of the characters. Heavy drinking can be funny, especially when attuned to the Christmas holiday.

To Broderick’s credit he keeps his portrayal low key, making his dramatic pronouncement effective when he raises his voice like a thunderclap.

The card game itself becomes a rowdy affair, with frantic raises of bets and occasional outbursts of temper. But Lockhart plays his hands calmly and the audience is eventually dealt a surprise.

One can ponder what the author is getting at in his play, but it would seem to be a framework for contemplating one’s past as well as messed-up lives wasting away by escape via drinking. And is anyone due a second chance?

Director Ciarán O’Reilly, who is producing director of the theater company, keeps the banter intense, the pace fluid and gives the actors full rein to make the most of their characterizations. “The Seafarer” isn’t a very deep play, but it sure is an arresting one, especially as staged in this revival. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed April 20, 2018.


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