'The Seafarer'

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In the West Coast premiere of his new play about the horizons of life, Conor McPherson regales us with details of our mortal condition as short-lived wanderers.

He does so through an intimate Christmastime visit to two Dublin brothers (John Mahoney and Andrew Connolly), various friends and a suspiciously leprechauny kind of character (Tom Irwin). As often happens with such a theatrically rich cast, a claustrophobic maudlin pall occasionally spreads over the proceedings, but it usually is relieved, and in the nick of time, by explosions of Irish mirth and jollity.

There are lots of retro Hollywood shades hovering over "Seafarer," but McPherson also injects his own quirky brand of humor into the lilt of his prose. A drunkard announces, "If I can just beat Christmas, I can beat anything." And Irwin's brilliant soliloquy toward the end — "Possibilities seem endless, and immortality seems strong" — is a mesmerizing reflection on hell and the futility of recrimination.

The dynamite finale consists of two hands of poker that serve as the setup for an ingenious turnaround (though students of Jessica Fletcher might see it coming).

The production is precise and powerful. By evening's end, the story, characters and acting have combined seamlessly to produce some unforgettable moments in the theater. (partialdiff)
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