Theater review by Helen Shaw
The Irish Rep’s production of Conor McPherson’s 2006 latter-day fable The Seafarer comes laden with good qualities: vivid performances, believable boozing and, of course, McPherson’s gorgeous dialogue. But there’s a hole just under the waterline, a single error that makes the play founder. In an otherwise strong company, visiting star Matthew Broderick is both too obvious to ignore and too wrong to right.
Four men gather in a grubby Dublin living room to play poker on Christmas Eve. Crag-faced Sharky (Andy Murray) has returned home to help out his belligerent brother, Richard (Colin McPhillamy), whose recent blinding has sent him into a never-ending alcoholic binge. Indeed, drink hounds them all: Sharky is struggling to dry out, and when two of their friends come over—suave Nicky (Tim Ruddy) and shortsighted Ivan (a hilarious Michael Mellamphy)—we see just how much time these blustering men lose to whiskey. The play is thus haunted by demons even before a creepy stranger (Broderick, in a tidy grey mustache) joins the game to play for Sharky’s soul.
This is where the production falters. Broderick’s customary air of frozen agitation turns even the Devil himself into an unintimidating milquetoast, and without a serious antagonist, the piece lapses into atmosphere. Ciarán O’Reilly’s cast of Irish Rep regulars bicker and rage and make little masterpieces out of small gestures; there are tidy bits of concealed symbolism (some theatrical business with a dartboard, for instance, could be a comment on how well Richard’s barbs still land), and the world onstage has a genuinely lived-in air. But despite all this excellence, the play can’t function without the Devil, and he’s just not there: not in the broad strokes, not in the details.
Irish Repertory Theatre (Off Broadway). By Conor McPherson. Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly. With Matthew Broderick. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.