Review: ‘The Seafarer’ by Conor McPherson, presented by Hawkmoon Theatre in Berkeley (****)

by Barry David Horwitz

Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

hawkmoon

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

The Devil of a play has arrived at Live Oak Park in Berkeley. You wouldn’t expect this 2006 award-winning Irish drama to reside in such pastoral surroundings, but there it glows, like the gift of a burning comet from another solar system. Five Irish drinkers have gathered in a run-down cottage in Baldoyle, on the coast north of Dublin, for quite a few nips on Christmas eve. They sail through the whole night and into the morning, drinking, carousing, and playing poker — in a game with extra-terrestrial consequences.

This long night’s journey, directed by Michael Storm, who also plays Mr. Lockhart, the sinister stranger among the five profane card players, slowly unfolds its Christmas gift of existential revelations that shake our hearts and reveal our inner loneliness.

Each of these characters, brilliantly drawn by five fine, subtle, and experienced Bay Area actors, becomes a distinct and diamond-sharp acquaintance in the course of the ominous, pregnant night. This is an effective, traditionally structured play, with an intermission and a second act that changes and charges the entire universe with its reversal of fortune. Although they seem like ordinary and unsavory guys, trapped in an all male universe of competition and self indulgence, the five poker buddies embody Christian myths, based on the Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Seafarer,” reaching back to earlier Gaelic spirituality. McPherson makes it easy to follow these characters into their depths and then out into the universe, again. They don’t do much, there’s a lot of sitting, and we could wish for more movement around that dilapidated, brilliantly shabby, and poor little house, but director Storm has us trapped in McPherson’s static world, waiting for the morn, the “miraculous birth.”

In an extraordinary turn in this ensemble piece, James ‘Sharky’ Harkin is played by the sharp and insightful Kevin Karrick. Kerrick lumbers around the stage, taking orders, tending to the needs of his brother. Sharky is trying to mend his ways, amend his sins, and is staying off the sauce, for now. Sharkey is the “Seafarer,” who has never been able to hold onto a job, or sobriety, or a girlfriend. His abusive older brother, Richard Harkin, flawlessly and brutally played by the equally extraordinary Clive Worsley, was recently blinded by falling into a dumpster. Sharky debases himself endlessly, taking the heaps of disdain from his drunken, selfish, foul-mouthed brother, who dissolves into a bawling infant when he does not get his way. Their interaction alone, embodying ignorant arrogance and long-suffering victimhood, in the hands of the impeccable Kerrick and Worsley, constitutes great drama, at the heart of this everyday fable. Kerrick, hangdog and laconic; Worsley, hyper and abusive, are building to a brotherly crisis that rumbles forth, with tragic inevitability. They make your bones rattle.

An attractively hellish pair, Nicky (a slithery Justin Dupis) and Lockhart, arrive to play against Sharky and Richard and their friend Ivan (Don Wood) in the most intense and tricky poker game you’ve ever seen onstage, I’ll bet. Their accents are spot on Gaelic, their drunkenness is perfect and restrained, and you can feel the doom approaching the hapless threesome. Storm plays the mysterious Lockhart, who is more than he seems to be, with admirable restraint and repressed fury. Some of his conversations with the silently fuming Sharky seem to be inspired by Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” or Camus’ “The Stranger.”

The story is as unpredictable as any game of poker must be, played by unfortgettable characters on a dark and stormy Christmas Eve on the Gaelic coast north of Dublin. These hapless drunken losers will surprise you with unexpected grace and haunt your dreams.

“The Seafarer” by Conor McPherson, plays through Sunday, December 20, at Live Oak Theatre in Berkeley.  For more information, click here.

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“The Seafarer” by Conor McPherson, produced by Hawkmoon Theatre. Director: Michael Storm. Costume Designer: Ashley Grambow. Properties: Kaitlin Rosen. Sound: Ryan Short. Lighting: Kristie Leffler. Stage Manager: Gary Quinn. Stage Crew: Brendan Yungert. Dialect Coach: Nancy Carlin.

Cast:

James ‘Sharky’ Harkin: Kevin Karrick. Richard Harkin: Clive Worsley. Ivan: Don Wood. Nicky: Justin DuPuis. Mr. Lockhart: Michael Storm.

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