Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 7, $79 - $209
Winner of three Olivier Awards for Best New Play, Best Director (Sam Mendes), and Best Actress (Laura Donnelly), British import The Ferryman is a staggering achievement, everything a Broadway play should be and more. Jez Butterworth, whose three-hour Jerusalem dazzled audiences in 2011 and earned Mark Rylance a Tony, followed in 2014 by the underwhelming eighty-five-minute The River, returns to the Great White Way with a searing 215-minute tale set during the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late summer of 1981, while Irish Republican political prisoners are on a five-month hunger strike that has divided Great Britain. Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) and his extended family are living on a farm in rural County Armagh — including his always ailing wife, Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly); their children, J.J. (Niall Wright), Michael (Fra Fee), Shena (Carla Langley), Nunu (Brooklyn Shuck), Mercy (Willow McCarthy), Honor (Matilda Lawler), and a nine-month-old son; Quinn’s elderly Uncle Patrick (Mark Lambert) and wheelchair-bound Aunt Maggie Far Away (Fionnula Flanagan); fierce IRA supporter Aunt Patricia (Dearbhla Molloy); and Quinn’s sister-in-law, Caitlin (Donnelly), and her son, Oisin (Rob Malone).
They are all preparing for the harvest feast, with the help of their trusted farmworker, Tom Kettle (Justin Edwards), an addled, simple Englishman, and teenage cousins Shane (Tom Glynn-Carney), Diarmaid (Conor MacNeill), and Declan Corcoran (Michael McArthur), who know how to have a good time. Quinn has been trying to escape his IRA past, but it all comes hurtling back when the body of his brother, Seamus, Caitlin’s husband, is found in a bog and IRA strongman Frank Magennis (Dean Ashton) and leader Muldoon (Stuart Graham) show up unexpectedly at the house to send a very specific message. Caught in the middle is Father Horrigan (Charles Dale), who wants to do the right thing but is threatened by Magennis and Muldoon as well.
Tony winner Mendes (American Beauty, Cabaret) superbly navigates the play’s many complexities, making three hours and fifteen minutes virtually float by. Rob Howell’s crowded, busy set (he also designed the costumes), a kind of purgatory where various sins are revealed, is able to contain the large cast as the characters sing, dance, argue, cook, tell stories, love, and fight. Numerous cast changes have been made since it first opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in October (and where it has been extended through July 7), but The Ferryman is an ensemble piece, not dependent on any individual performances, although a baby and a goose stand out. That said, it is a treat to see English actor Considine, who has starred in such films as Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Ultimatum, and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin, make his stage debut as Quinn, a proud man who just wants to go on with his family life but is pulled back into his past. “Let’s just stay like this. Let me just dream for a moment. Imagine what it feels like to have won. I just want to stay like this,” he tells Caitlin early on, before news of Seamus’s fate reaches them. Butterworth, who has cowritten screenplays for such films as Fair Game, Black Mass, and Spectre, was inspired to write The Ferryman by the true story of the murder of Donnelly’s uncle Eugene, who disappeared in 1981 and whose body was discovered three years later. Butterworth wrote the part of Caitlin specifically for Donnelly (Outlander, The River), his partner, who was pregnant during the initial London run. Donnelly gave birth to a daughter, while Butterworth delivered what is currently the best play on Broadway.