Elden Street Players The SeafarerBy Bob Ashby • Mar 19th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Elden Street Players: (Info) (Web)
Industrial Strength Theater, Herndon, VA
Through April 6th
2:15 with one intermission
Reviewed March 15th, 2013
As the group announced in January, Elden Street Players, long one of the top-drawer community theaters in the area, is attempting the transition to professional status beginning next fall. With Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, the company is already showing an ability to mount shows at the next level. Professional quality shines through in every aspect of the production.
The Seafarer includes some staples of Irish theater – God, guilt, and drink – but succeeds in avoiding the unremitting gloom that makes attendance at some Irish plays the emotional equivalent of a root canal. Two middle-aged brothers – Sharky (Bill Fleming) and Richard (Scott Bailey) – host a Christmas Eve poker game. From the opening moment when the corpulent, disheveled Sharky shuffles onto the stage, it is clear that we are not looking at one of life’s winners. Sharky has lost his wife, his job, most of his self-respect and, despite a two-day old vow to stay off the sauce, his will to live a life beyond the next drink. Richard, recently blinded in a Halloween accident, has a bit more of the life force remaining in him, though shown in some odd ways, like his repeated attempts to chase off winos outside their downscale Dublin house. The two brothers have a relationship of mutual annoyance. They also share a deep underlying anger at their lives and circumstances, which Sharky displays explosively when he gets particularly drunk in Act 2 and Richard expresses through his consistently loud, almost shouted delivery (“inside voice” is a concept foreign to Bailey’s Richard).
Attending the poker game with the brothers are the near-sighted Ivan (Mark Adams) (there is a running gag about his inability to find his glasses, which leads to a key plot twist toward the end of the show) who drinks early and often, and Nicky (Ian Mark Brown), who is slightly more prosperous than the others (he is employed and now lives with Sharky’s former wife). The four men inhabit a world in which other human contact, above all with women, is peripheral and the self-anesthesia of alcohol is central.
Nicky brings to the game the initially mysterious Mr. Lockhart (Todd Huse), a being with a sinister mission. The differences between Mr. Lockhart and the other four are immediately apparent from their costuming. The four locals are dressed in drab, rumpled clothing (Nicky’s is slightly better, including his probably knockoff Versace jacket); Mr. Lockhart is in a dapper dark suit with a red vest and tie. Mr. Lockart’s separateness is also emphasized by director Angie Anderson’s blocking. Often, during Act 2, he stands apart on stage left while the other four gather at the stage right table.
Mr. Lockhart, is turns out, is the devil; he has come to drag Sharky’s soul to hell, the consequence of a long-ago card game that helped Sharky evade a likely manslaughter charge. Huse’s devil is a generally soft-spoken, smug character. His tight, closed-mouth half-grin is one of his most ominous features. McPherson gives Mr. Lockhart the most memorable monologue of the script, in which he describes hell as a place of cold, frozen constraint, reminiscent of Dante’s ninth circle, a place of ultimate loneliness (a loneliness that Lockhart himself shares). Huse delivers the speech chillingly.
All the actors, in their physicality and line readings, create fully realized, very different, individuals who nonetheless play wonderfully together in this ensemble piece. Timing and pacing are impeccable, with line overlaps and pauses that create a feeling of real conversation. There are lovely small details; Nicky’s constant foot twitching during the card game, for example, provides a sense of his state of mind when he is mostly facing upstage.
The set, designed by Tod Kerr, is a realistic depiction of the brothers’ home. The details, color, and texture of the set, and the even more elaborately detailed set dressing, designed by Nanette Reynolds, are perfect and evocative. The red illuminated cross, which plays an important role in the play’s conclusion, is an especially nice touch. Just by viewing the setting, before the lights go down and the first line is spoken, the audience has already learned a great deal about the people and universe of the play. The lighting, designed by Franklin Coleman, is likewise excellent, especially when the lights are dimmed for Mr. Lockhart’s interactions with Sharky, to a chilly blue in the case of the hell speech, then come up again, more warmly, when the other parts of this small community reassemble.
At the end of the climactic card game, Sharky is delivered by what might seem a matter of dumb luck but which, in context, is nothing less than a hint of God’s grace, opening the possibility for Sharky to take the first tentative steps toward reclaiming his humanity. It’s no coincidence that the play is set on Christmas Eve, a time offering the promise of redemption. While this production opened on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, it would be a far more interesting, and more meaningful, Christmas season choice than the ten zillionth version of A Christmas Carol.
The Seafarer, for me is the conclusion of a trilogy of plays written by Conor McPherson that I have directed at Elden Street. The first two were The Weir and Shining City, and now with The Seafarer I feel as though I have completed a circle. There are many common themes in these three plays, sinning, redemption, alcoholism, and the struggles of the everyday. I think the theme that really spoke to me about The Seafarer, and became the reason I wanted to direct it and include it in this season, was the theme of rejecting isolation, and surrounding yourself with family and the friends who are like family.
Shark in the play is like the seafarer in the poem; he has cut himself off from those around him and become stranded on a large sea with no place to land. That makes him vulnerable to failure in life, to making horrible mistakes with grim circumstances. And he puts his own soul in jeopardy.
McPherson is one of the most critically acclaimed Irish playwrights today and so his plays are set in Ireland which adds another whole layer of the ancient themes of good and evil, where ghosts roam the coastal towns and appear in the local pubs and where religious themes are strong and vital to everyday life. It makes for the perfect location for a mysterious visitor to find a way into a card game among friends on a windy and rainy Christmas Eve.
Finally, because I like McPherson’s richly drawn characters that I have layer upon layer of inner struggles and are all endearingly flawed but able to convince you that they can be redeemed, I thought that you too would enjoy The Seafarer in the Elden Street Players’ 25th season.
Photos by Elden Street Players
- James “Sharky” Harkin: Bill Fleming
- Richard Harkin: Scott Bailey
- Ivan Curry: Mark Adams
- Nicky Giblin: Ian Mark Brown
- Mr. Lockhart: Todd C. Huse
- Producer: Janet Bordeaux
- Director: Angie Anderson
- Stage Manager: Don Petersen
- Assisted by: Meg S.J. Miller
- Running Crew: Sierra Banack, Revathi Murthy
- Set Design: Tod Kerr
- Master Carpenters: Tod Kerr, C. Scott Healy, Steve Ross
- Assisted by: Jeff Boatright, Theresa Bender, Ian Brown, Richard Durkin, Lorraine Magee, Marty Sullivan
- Set Painting Design: Jill L. Kerr
- Set Dressing and Properties: Nanette Reynolds
- Lighting Design: Franklin C. Coleman
- Assisted by: AnnMarie Castrigno, Wade Corder, Jonathan Halverson, Peter Halverson, Richard Hildebrand, Mike O’Connor, Michael Kwan, Kimberly Crago, Theresa Bender
- Light Board Operators: Lorraine Magee, Kimberly Crago, Christine Nolen
- Sound Design: Stan Harris
- Sound Board Operator: Brian Christensen
- Stage Combat Choreography: Steve Lada
- Costume Design: Judy Whelihan
- Hair and Makeup Design: Kat Brais
- House Management: Evan Hoffmann
- Box Office Management: Sandra Sullivan
- Photography: Matthew Randall
- Publicity: Rich Klare, Matthew Thompson, Evan Hoffmann
- Playbill: Ginger Kohles
Disclaimer: Elden Street Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9258.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.