'Seafarer': Awash in everything but water

Theater Review

May 24, 2011|By Mike Giuliano

Irish playwright Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer" features five male characters and many booze bottles sharing a Dublin living room on Christmas Eve. It's such a hard-drinking play that the Fells Point Corner Theatre production frankly seems right at home in this bar-saturated Baltimore neighborhood.

These guys would have the gift of gab even if they were sober. They raise toasts to the Christmas season and, for that matter, raise toasts to nothing at all. Needless to say, their language includes its share of profanity.

McPherson's humorously vulgar 2006 play does a very thorough job of immersing us in the moderately seedy house owned by Richard (Rodney Bonds), whose blindness is no obstacle for knowing how to find the bottles. Richard, who is in poor health, has been paid a sudden visit by his younger and generally healthier brother, Sharky (Greg Guyton).

Although he looks strong, Sharky is a psychological mess. As the play's title indicates, Sharky wanted to have a life at sea. However, his alcoholism scuttled those plans. Now more or less on the wagon, Sharky has been working as a chauffeur. He travels, but not in as adventurous a manner as he once hoped.

Sharky's disappointment in life places even more strain on his already-troubled relationship with Richard. The brothers are constantly getting on each other's nerves as they share the same depressing living space. Sharky is especially grossed out by having to play nurse to Richard's daily needs, which the play is not shy about sharing with the audience.

The play initially seems promising as a character study in which the two brothers have a love-hate relationship that veers towards the hate end of the spectrum. Both Greg Guyton and Rodney Bonds completely inhabit their roles as these squabbling siblings, but the actors unfortunately bear no physical resemblance to each other. This makes the play's fraternal references seem unintentionally puzzling. It's a nagging bit of casting that haunts the entire evening.

The arguments between Sharky and Richard escalate when two old friends pay a visit. Ivan (J.R. Lyston) and Nicky (Pat McPartlin) have come over to play poker. This production directed by Barry Feinstein is at its most enjoyable when all these guys trade insults with every hand of cards. There may not be a lot of forward momentum in the script during the poker game, but it's a rudely perceptive slice of life.

Things become more problematic for these characters and also for the play itself by the introduction of an enigmatic stranger, Mr. Lockhart (Tom Blair), whose somber personality really makes him stand out from the constantly joking fellows he has joined for the card game.

"The Seafarer" gains dramatic momentum when Mr. Lockhart makes himself better known by confiding some crucial biographical information to Sharky. Although it would not be fair to prospective audiences to say anything more about Mr. Lockhart, let's just say that his identity qualifies as quite a revelation.

McPherson has deliberately established such a grungy everyday reality in this Dublin house that the extreme plot twist is likely to divide audiences as to whether or not they emotionally go along with it. This particular audience member had a response along the lines of "Oh, brother!," and ultimately wished the play did not go in the direction it goes.

If this plot twist leads to vigorous arguments after the show, well, there are plenty of waterfront establishments in Fells Point where you can continue the discussion over an Irish whiskey.

"The Seafarer" runs through June 5 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, at 251 S. Ann St., in Fells Point. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17 Friday and Saturday, $15 Sunday. There's also a performance Thursday, June 2 at 8 p.m., with $10 tickets. Call 410-276-7837 or go to http://www.fpct.org.

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