The Seafarer

CARD SHARPS Some Irish revelers are dealt a blow.

CARD SHARPS Some Irish revelers are dealt a blow.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Ever since Marlowe’s Mephistopheles told Faust that Hell is wherever his sooty hoof touches earth, dramatists have speculated on the nature of inferno. The latest to do so is Conor McPherson, the fascinating Irish playwright whose psychological ghost story Shining City was a high point of 2005. The Seafarer is McPherson’s folksy modern fable about Irish buddies gambling with their souls. As in his other works, the playwright-director skillfully blends gritty realism and metaphysical chills.

Unlike Shining City, McPherson doesn’t leave his supernatural revelations to the last moment; about 40 minutes in we learn that Mr. Lockhart (Ciarán Hinds) is Beelzebub himself, a dapper but melancholy demon with a quick temper who plans to take Sharky (David Morse) “through the old hole in the wall.” His means is neither fiddle-playing nor a bloodstained contract, but a friendly round of poker. It seems that Sharky, during a bout of drunkenness years earlier, beat Mr. Lockhart at cards, thus earning his freedom from jail on a murder rap. Now, as Sharky maintains sobriety to care for his blind, alcoholic older brother (Jim Norton), he has to play the hand of his life.

Loose, lusty storytelling drives much of this rollicking tale—five lads in a crummy room on Christmas Eve, talking shite and getting madly pissed on whiskey. Morse’s deep-etched portrait of a self-loathing man reaching out for dignity grounds the play’s blarney with moral urgency. Who cares if the resolution is somewhat pat, excepting Hinds’s chilling description of Hell as a coffin under the ocean? We’ll happily go through that old hole in the wall anytime McPherson lays down his cards.

—David Cote

Booth Theatre. Written and directed by Conor McPherson. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.