The Seafarer

By Conor McPhersonseanachai theatre

Directed by Matt Miller

Produced by Seanachai Theatre Company

At The Den, Chicago

“He knows not
Who lives most easily on land, how I
Have spent my winter on the ice-cold sea
Wretched and anxious, in the paths of exile
Lacking dear friends, hung round by icicles
While hail flew past in showers…”

 From the medieval poem The Seafarer translated by Richard Hamer

 Dark humor fuels McPherson holiday allegory

 For an alternative to all those family-friendly holiday shows, try The Seafarer.  It’ll give you reasons to go on the wagon for the duration of the holidays! McPherson’s The Seafarer is another of his cathartic plays that allow him to purge his personal battle against alcoholism. (He is now dry for more than 10 years!) He paints contemporary Irish life wherein many men use the act of drinking as a male bonding ritual and a means of companionship. Heavy drinking is a reality escape and a self-loathing act of loneliness and isolation. McPherson inherits the theme from other Irish playwright such as Sean O’Casey, Brendan Behan, Eugene O’Neill, Brian Friel, and Martin McDonagh—all of which place drinking as an act of hopelessly desperate and shameful souls. With The Seafarer, Conor McPherson establishes himself among the elite of living playwrights. This is an outstanding play filled with dark humor and loads of pathos.

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In this tale of guilt and redemption, it’s Christmas Eve in modern Dublin. In a rundown house (nice set design by Joe Schermoly) we meet Sharky (Dan Waller) as he tries to clean up after his older, now blind, brother Richard (Brad Armacost) and his friend Ivan (Ira Amyx) finished an all-night drinking session. Richard is hung over and surly as he mixes orneriness, helplessness and charm to get his guilt-ridden brother to wait on him. The Seafarer is as much about the struggle for dominance as it is a portrait of the effects of living a life where drink plays a central role.  Sharky is a middle aged man home to help his blind brother. He has been sober for two days as he struggles with the guilt earned from a life where drinking lead to personal destruction. When Nicky (Shane Kenyon)—Richards friend and Sharky’s enemy– stop by with a stranger—Lockhart (Kevin Theis) for a Christmas drink, the men determine that a card game (poker) is in order.

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McPherson mixes dark humor with bittersweet laments on life, social and family relationships. Brad Armacost produces  humor as the crusty, hard-drinker blind old man. He is part philosopher, part drunken sage and all manipulative soul. We see how both Ivan and Nicky (the married friends) feel guilty as they abandoning their families to partake in the drinking bouts with Richard and the guys. They feel guilty then they try to drink away their guilt. There is no shame in an alcoholic.

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Lockhart has a one-on-one conversation with Sharky about how they meet twenty-five years ago. Lockhart is here to collect Sharky’s soul. What ensues through the card game is the struggle not only for the cash from but for personal dominance and ultimately Sharky’s soul. We see the effects of loneliness and the search for human connectivity. Facing the demons from their past versus the struggle to find redemption is nicely examined.

McPherson has cleverly written this allegory with clever elements of suspense, dark humor as well as a stark portrait of the estrangement resulting from a life dominated by alcohol. The Seafarer is an excellent comic drama filled with quirky characters and spot-on acting from the veteran cast. Besides Armacost’s great work, I thought Ira Amyz landed his line with deft aplomb. From comedy to pathos, this cast gave a clinic on character acting. Dan Waller was subtly effective with his nuanced struggle with guilt and human frailty. The Seafarer is an excellent work performed with skill. Don’t miss this heartfelt look at the shame of a life dominated by drinking.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: November 29, 2013

For more info checkout The Seafarer page at

At The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL,  call 773-878-3727

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