Irish Repertory Theatre, Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage
132 West 22nd St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Wednesday – Sunday through May 24, $50-$70
Lightning doesn’t quite strike twice for director Ciarán O’Reilly, star Matthew Broderick, and playwright Conor McPherson in the Irish Rep revival of The Seafarer. In June 2016, O’Reilly directed Broderick in a haunting revival of McPherson’s 2004 West End hit, Shining City, which was nominated for Best Play and Best Actor (Oliver Platt) when it moved to Broadway in 2006. Two years later, The Seafarer garnered four Tony nods, including Best Play and Best Director (McPherson). The current version of The Seafarer, continuing on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through May 24, is a stormy black comedy that takes place on Christmas Eve morning in a squalid, creaky basement apartment in Baldoyle, a coastal settlement north of Dublin City, that looks like a hurricane just passed through. Sharky (an exceptional Andy Murray) is cleaning up after what must have been one helluva drunken gathering the night before. Bottles and cans are strewn all over Charlie Corcoran’s vividly detailed, dank and dingy, crowded set, a shambles stuffed full of piles of junk, old record albums, ratty furniture, stained wallpaper, a small iron stove, and a puny fake Christmas tree. Recently on the wagon, Sharky is an uptight, tense fisherman and chauffeur who is taking care of his perpetually drunk, recently blinded, overweight wastrel of an older brother, Richard (Colin McPhillamy). Their friend Ivan (Michael Mellamphy) spent the night, too drunk to go home to his wife and kids. Ivan has misplaced his car and his glasses, which serves as a metaphor for all the characters, who are each unable to look ahead and move forward in life. Sharky is none too keen when Nicky (Tim Ruddy) arrives, a somewhat slicker man who is now living with Sharky’s ex-girlfriend. Nicky also brings a special guest, the well-dressed, well-spoken Mr. Lockhart (Broderick), who is more than he appears to be. “I’ve seen you. On your travels. On your wandering ways,” Lockhart tells Sharky when the two of them are alone. “I’ve seen all those hopeless thoughts, buried there, in your stupid scrunched-up face.” The mysterious Lockhart has come to collect on a debt, one that Sharky might not even have realized he still owes but has been tearing at his soul for decades. In the second act, the five men sit down for a game of cards in which the stakes are a lot higher for Sharky than for his drinking buddies.
The Seafarer was inspired by an Olde English poem about the hardships men suffer as well as the Irish folktale “The Hellfire Club,” involving a rather dramatic card game. All five characters, including Lockhart, are carrying personal demons, but it’s Sharky’s tale that drives the narrative, and Murray (War Horse, The Emperor Jones) is more than up to the task, playing Sharky — whom he also portrayed in a 2008 production in California — with the brooding intensity of a once-proud man whose chances are quickly running out. His penetrating eyes reveal a deeply troubled individual who might at last be coming to terms with the things he has done and the choices he has made. Two-time Tony winner Broderick (Brighton Beach Memoirs, How to Succeed in Business . . .), fiddling with an Irish brogue, gets to break out of his stiffness near the end in a part previously played by Ron Cook, Ciarán Hinds, and Tom Irwin. Ruddy (The Weir, Swansong) is fine as the thinly drawn Nicky, but Mellamphy (Guy Walks into a Bar, When I Was God) is underwhelming as Ivan, and McPhillamy (The Woman in Black, Shakespeare in Love) severely overplays Richard; true, it’s a big, meaty part, one that earned Jim Norton an Olivier and a Tony, but McPhillamy never gets inside the character, playing his many physical and psychological maladies too broadly. Irish Rep producing director O’Reilly (The Emperor Jones, The Weir) does a good job with the surprise revelations that come at the end of each act, but the play is saddled with too much repetition, a few unresolved issues, and too many distractions, particularly the winos creating a ruckus outside. As with The Weir and Shining City, the supernatural is dealt with in clever ways, this time more overtly. And speaking of the supernatural, religion is key as well. There are numerous depictions of Jesus hanging on the walls, but the only thing the failed men worship is booze. When Richard proclaims, “I have so little left to live for!,” it could apply, in different ways, to every one of them, who, in the tradition of many alcoholic Irishmen before them, live only for the next drink.