EmptyBooth Theatre, New York
It has long been demonstrated in nearly every artistic genre that it's foolhardy to make bets with the devil.
But gifted playwright Conor McPherson ("The Weir," "Shining City") brings freshness to an overworked conceit in "The Seafarer," his simultaneously rollicking and haunting new play now receiving its Broadway premiere after an acclaimed run at London's National Theatre.
The simple story line revolves around a group of sodden Irishmen who have gathered on Christmas Eve for a friendly game of poker. The players include the sullen Sharky (David Morse), who has been caring for his elderly brother, Richard (Jim Norton), after he blinded himself in a drunken accident; the hapless Ivan (Conleth Hill), virtually blind without the glasses that he has misplaced; and the amiable Nicky (Sean Mahon), who arrives after a lengthy pub crawl.
The latter brings along an unexpected guest, the dapperly dressed Mr. Lockhart (Ciaran Hinds), who soon reveals a strange aversion to music of any kind, especially "Ave Maria."
At first, this mysterious interloper seems friendly enough, but it isn't long before he reveals his true identity and intentions, if only to Sharky. It seems that he actually is Satan, and he has come to claim Sharky's soul -- if he can win it in the game -- after letting it slip through his fingers in a jailhouse encounter many years earlier.
McPherson elevates his deceptively simple premise via the richness of his dialogue, which resonates with memorable pungency. The broad humor of the interactions among the profanely irreverent characters is well contrasted with the icy menace of Mr. Lockhart, who, while patiently waiting to claim his prize, delivers memorable speeches including a chilling description of hell to his would-be victim.
Delivered in a stylishly ominous and beautifully acted production directed by the playwright, "Seafarer" does tend to feel like a one-act drama that has been stretched out with detrimental effect to an overlong 21⁄2-hour running time. As the irascible Richard puts it at one point, "There's too much 'Auld Lang Syne' going on around here."
But there is no denying the deeply humanistic nature of its characterizations or the elemental power of its classically Faustian theme. "Seafarer" might be a new play, but it already has the feel of a timeless classic.
A National Theatre of Great Britain production
Presented by Ostar Prods., Bob Boyett, Roy Furman, Lawrence Horowitz, Jam Theatricals, Bill Rollnick/Nancy Ellison Rollnick, James D'Orta, Thomas S. Murphy, Ralph Guild/Jon Avet, Philip Geier/Keough Partners and Eric Falkenstein/Max OnStage
Playwright-director: Conor McPherson
Set/costume designer: Rae Smith
Lighting designer: Neil Austin
Sound designer: Matthew Smethurst-Evans
Ivan Curry: Conleth Hill
Mr. Lockhart: Ciaran Hinds
Nicky Giblin: Sean Mahon
James "Sharky" Harkin: David Morse
Richard Harkin: Jim Norton