by Margaret Croyden
The Seafarer by Conor McPherson
A production from Great Britain's National Theater
Directed by Conor McPherson
The Booth Theater
West 45th Street
Opened December 6, 2007
Reviewed December 10, 2007 by Margaret Croyden
If you want to see terrific acting on the Broadway stage (which is rare) you must see Conor McPherson's new play, "The Seafarer" at the Booth theater. There, five actors will show you how group acting can make a simple drama compelling. As expected in a McPherson play, the story takes place in a provincial town outside of Dublin where four friends meet to celebrate Christmas, beginning with Christmas Eve morning and ending Christmas Eve night. In Richard's (Jim Norton) run down, shabby house, each man is eager to indulge his ritual--playing poker and drinking. Drinking, the endless talk about it, the search for it, are the principle obsessions of this besotted group. And they will do anything to procure the precious alcohol which unites them in a common bond.
Richard has recently become blind and his brother Charkey (David Morse) has returned to his native town to look after him. For the celebration, other drinking friends show up: Ivan (Conleth Hill) and Nicky Giblin (Sean Mahon) and are eager and ready to drink away the day and night. A stranger, Mr. Lockhart, (Ciaran Hinds) enters the house and though the others do not know him, he is invited to join the group.
The plot is not as important as what the actors do. From the start, the blind Richard--dirty, smelly, unkempt--tries to crawl to the bathroom, but in rejecting the help of others, he stumbles, falls, and is infuriated by his helplessness. In between Richard's rages and rants and his fury about his affliction, he provides most of the black humor in the play. Every sentence he utters is sprinkled with the four letter word used as a noun, an adjective and a participle, For the fun of it and for his alcohol needs, he develops tricks to procure the alcohol that his brother tries to hide from him. A forceful character, he is the center of the play.
The brother, Sharkey (David Morse) is the opposite. With a quiet sense of gloom he goes about his business regardless of his obvious malaise. Morse plays the part quietly without a clear display of emotion; he seems separate from the group, but equally interesting to watch. But Jim Norton as the angry blind man delivers the best laugh lines. A jovial rascal (despite his vitriol), a drinker, a dreamer, and a myth maker, he seemed to be the conventional Irish alcoholic. But he is not alone: all the men share a common cause: alcohol-- and the ritual that goes with it.
Directed by the author himself, Conor McPherson, the drama is actually a morality play: one man is blind, another can't find his glasses, a third is about to lose his wife, and forth has actually committed a crime. None of these men have any consciousness of their past until Mr. Lockhart, the stranger confronts them. Who this man is and what he wants is somewhat obvious from the start, since he knows so much of each man's misdeeds. Is he a redeemer or a devil. The end is predictable but it would not be right to give it away.
Regardless of the story and its message, it is the acting that overshadows everything. It would be hard to top Jim Norton's portrayal of the old, blind drinker, or match the clarity of the entire ensemble. Also credit goes to the author who directed the play himself. No dull moments in this show; no laugh lines missed, and every actor knows his business.
At last, we have a winner.
Margaret Croyden's most recent book is "Conversations with Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
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