Irish Repertory Theatre the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage
Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Starring Matthew Broderick, Colin McPhillamy, Michael Mellamphy, Andy Murray, and Tim Ruddy
Through May 24, 2018
As one of Ireland’s most important contemporary dramatic voices, playwright Conor McPherson knows how to craft a simple yet sly story in “The Seafarer.” Making its off-Broadway return to New York at the Irish Rep through Ciarán O’Reilly’s well-directed production, the play shouldn’t be missed. Set in a beautifully ramshackle house in Baldoyle, a coastal suburb north of Dublin, McPherson’s set piece starts as an intimate look at middle aged men coping with the dismay of living out lives full of existential despair and actual pain. These are characters who haven’t exactly handled their jobs or families with much grace, but what seems to be naturalistic portraits turns into an oddly believable supernatural fantasy with a sinister underpinning.
The narrative revolves around a simple idea — what if what we think we know isn’t what’s really up. In this case, well-worn traumas working their way through a wretched Christmas Eve into Christmas day take a sinister turn. Without giving away the reveal, there’s a twist to the story that takes it from a look into painfully frustrating men interacting into an intriguing game of win or really lose. When the play transforms from this intimate look of lives struggling with last attempts at redemption to be a supernatural thriller of fate, it adds a layer of humor and anxiety that makes even more revealing.
Sharky (Andy Murray) has returned home to build a new, sober life after losing yet another job through both recklessness and sheer bad luck. He has to cope with his far more hopeless older brother, Richard (Colin McPhillamy) who had been blinded through a drunken accident a year ago. While Sharky tries to help him he doesn’t make it easy refusing to bathe or slow down his drunken excesses.
On this Christmas Eve, their old disreputable friend Ivan (Michael Mellamphy) has crashed in the house rather than be home with his family. The drinks flow as these old “friends” are joined by Nicky (Tim Ruddy) who brings along the mysterious Mr. Lockhart (Matthew Broderick) for an annual game of poker. This stranger turns out to be someone encountered in Sharky’s wretched past who ups the ante on the stakes in the game with possibly dire consequences.
All of the cast settles into their characters with ease and rough grace but it is Broderick, in his second appearance on the Irish Repertory Theatre’s main stage, who turns out to be the perfect sinister personality. Because of his seemingly innocent face and demeanor, he adds an unexpected grit to his character. Previously he had been in McPherson's "Shining City" in 2016, which was hailed by The New York Times as “his most assured and affecting stage performance in years.”
When "The Seafarer" premiered at London’s Royal National Theatre in 2006, it was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Play. When premiered on Broadway in December of 2007, it was nominated for four 2008 Tony Awards, including Best Play. And if this current version is any indication, this 46-year old playwright is poised for an ever brighter future.