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The Seafarer

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The Devil went down to Dublin, and…played a game of poker? It’s a wacky and yet somehow pedestrian premise, which Irish playwright Conor McPherson, thanks to his gift for tall-tale-telling, spins into an elegant, thoughtful theatrical thriller. The Seafarer is the longest — and most traditional — drama McPherson’s ever written. The Irish dramatist’s trademark is short, monologue-stuffed pieces. Here, he proves he can do banter: Brothers Sharky (David Morse), a newly sober ne’er-do-well, and Richard (Jim Norton, in his fifth McPherson production), a whiskey-loving old crank, pick and peck at each other like only family can. (”Eejit” and ”curmudgeonly old bollocks” are probably the nicest names they call each other.) Rounding out the Christmas Eve card game are pal Ivan (Conleth Hill, whose comb-over must be seen to be believed), frenemy Nicky (Sean Mahon), and a blast from Sharky’s past, the mysterious Mr. Lockhart (Ciarán Hinds), who quickly shows his hand: ”I’m the son of the morning, Sharky. I’m the snake in the garden. I’ve come here for your soul.”

That McPherson weaves in a supernatural element isn’t at all surprising — he did it in 1998’s St. Nicholas, 1999’s The Weir, last season’s Shining City; that a lapsed Catholic would write the Prince of Darkness into one of his works is probably worth another play altogether. What’s most impressive is how much sympathy he garners for the Devil. Hinds’ performance helps; there’s not a trace of caricature in it. But in Mr. Lockhart’s Act 2 monologue — yes, McPherson does give him one — we actually see into Satan’s (is it possible?) soul. Sharky asks what hell is. And Lockhart explains. He describes the isolation, the ”blistering shame,” the ”self-loathing” — ”there truly is no one to love you” — the ”angry tears freezing in your eyelashes,” how your bones ”ache with deep perpetual agony.” The Seafarer takes a while to find its stride; despite fine performances all around, Act 1’s deliberate pace requires some patience (and might have benefited from a director other than McPherson). But the climactic card game, which occupies almost the entirety of the show’s second half, is a corker, and McPherson’s unexpected ending is at once peaceful and provocative. A-
(Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com)

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