Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Devil and Danny O'Webster

"The Seafarer" at the Booth Theatre, December 2, 2007

(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Conor McPherson's latest supernatural tale of from the Emerald Isle has arrived, and for one who's been a bit tired of Irish drama lately, it's a welcome addition to the current Broadway play season. Following last year's ghost story in "Shining City" at Manhattan Theatre Club, Mr. McPherson is now taking on the larger spectrum of faith. In "Shining City" Mr. McPherson took on ghosts and guilt. This time he's broadened the demons of guilt to the ultimate battle of good and evil - man vs. the devil.

Richard (Jim Norton), recently blinded after a hitting his head in a drunken episode is being looked after by his brother Sharky (David Morse) who has recently returned home after losing yet another job. Drinking buddy Ivan (Conleth Hill) can't seem to find his way home to his family, encouraged by Richard to keep the booze flowing. Soon enough Nicky (Richie Coster) shows up. Seems Nicky stole the love of Sharky's life not so very long ago, contributing to Sharky's inability to focus on anything. In tow, Nicky has brought along one Mr. Lockhart (Ciaran Hinds), something of a misfit among this motley crew of Irishmen. Each of these men is fighting their own individual demons.

Part of Sharky's return is his goal to stop drinking for a while, to see if he can get his life back on track. Richard will have none of that, taking every opportunity to make that choice more difficult for Sharky. When Mr. Lockhart shows up, we learn that he and Sharky had met once before, after Sharky beat a man to death 25 years before. A jailhouse card game won by Sharky compelled the not-so-human-but-really-Lucifer-not-Lockhart to create a diversion where Sharky was released and never charged.

As Sharky, Mr. Morse still maintains a boyishness that belies his whitening hair. In fact, until it was stated, I thought he was Richard's son. His Sharky is shaky and nervous, first from alcohol withdrawal, then at the thought of life in the hell that Lockhart describes in vivid detail. It's a solid and notable performance. Sharky's demons from 25 years ago return as Lockhart demands a chance to win Sharky's soul in a rematch card game.

Mr. Coster, tall and rangy, his Nicky comes across a bit fey with a special delight in his Versace leather jacket. Mr. Hill's Ivan brings a bit of Benny Hill to mind, as he searches for his glasses lost during the previous drunken night, fumbling about the house for two acts. His demons are also revealed to connect with Lockhart as well, stemming from a fire that killed two families.

Mr. Hinds' Lockhart comes off a bit glib at first. His well-heeled look seems out of place among the his drunken compatriots. His Lockhart does belie his own goal of collecting another human soul, yet appearing so uncomfortable in the human shell he's assumed. It's interesting that the demon of alcohol weakens Lockhart as he torments Sharky.

Mr. Norton is the one to watch. He flails and fumbles as he adjusts to his recently lost sight. Richard's blindness has little impact on his inability to care for himself - many times charging off fueled by a constant flow of whiskey. His mix of physical comedy and detailed characterization is masterful.

Mr. McPherson, who also directs, gives us an excellent evening in the theatre. From the fine performances he's coaxed from his talented cast, to some clever nuances (watch the candle under the picture of Christ that hangs in the upstairs hallway), he has translated his work from paper to stage quite successfully.

Rae Smith's sets and costumes thoughtfully portray the worn-down lives of these men. I thought the flashes of red in Lockhart's ensemble (tie and suit jacket lining) were a particularly nice touch. Neil Austin's lighting ably assists, though some effects when Lockhart flexes his power come off a bit cheesy.

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