REVIEW: Matthew Broderick in “The Seafarer”
Prolific Irish playwright Conor McPherson is a master at telling dark stories with dashes of humor, matter-of-factly weaving the natural and supernatural together in ways both disarming and effective.
His 2006 play “The Seafarer” premiered to great acclaim at London’s National Theatre, and enjoyed a modest but celebrated run on Broadway in the 2007-2008 season. Eleven years later, Irish Repertory Theatre mounts a well-appointed revival of this fable, directed by Ciaran O’Reilly and starring a glaringly miscast Matthew Broderick alongside a finely nuanced troupe of mostly Irish and English actors.
Set on Christmas Eve in Baldoyle, a coastal suburb in County Dublin, Ireland, the play takes place in the filthy and musty basement living room of the recently-blinded drunkard Richard (a superb Colin McPhillamy) and his visiting, unemployed brother, Sharky (the equally superb Andy Murray). Overweight, cantankerous, and perpetually sauced, Richard bosses and barks at his younger brother, newly sworn off the bottle for the holidays, as the two spar over mundanities from breakfast to the grocery list.
Alongside their drunken pal Ivan (Michael Mellamphy), who has lost his glasses, an annual game of poker is planned for the evening. Richard riles Sharky by inviting Nicky (Tim Ruddy), a slick showboater married to Sharky’s ex-wife, who arrives with Mr. Lockhart (Matthew Broderick), a mysterious guest later revealed to be a Mephistophelian entity. That might sound like a spoiler, but from the moment Mr. Lockhart enters the stage, it’s clear he’s from another planet, partly due to his fancier costume and speech, but also because of Mr. Broderick’s stilted movement and bizarre accent, which is supposed to be Irish but more often sounds like Count Dracula.
As the night goes on and eventually becomes morning, booze flows freely and Mr. Lockhart confronts Sharky about a past crime for which he once bargained for his freedom in a jailhouse card game with Mr. Lockhart on the promise of a future rematch. Tonight is the night. And the final poker game among these five men becomes a fight for Sharky’s life. At least that is what is on paper. On stage, this production takes a long time to find its stride. While the non-Mephistophelian acting is richly engrossing, and the dialogue and setting so natural the experience feels almost voyeuristic, the simple plot falls victim to a slow boil and unfortunate casting decision.
The big ideas of sin and redemption that animate the heart of the story are rendered small and insignificant, in large part due to the miscasting of Mr. Broderick who is neither diabolical nor menacing enough to convincingly establish the tension necessary for the drama to unfold effectively. Without a devil as The Devil, the play is robbed of the magical and haunting sense that should pervade it, so reducing the stakes that the final card game scene that can be a scintillating knockout is woefully handicapped into a bland melodrama.
That’s a shame, because the balance of the cast is excellent, and the almost too real set by Charlie Corcoran and pitch perfect lighting by Brian Nason go a long way toward teeing up the right mood. If only the central antagonist didn’t drop the ball.
Bottom Line: Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer” receives a well-appointed and otherwise finely acted revival by the Irish Repertory Theatre that is besmirched by the miscasting of Matthew Broderick as a Mephistophelian antagonist central to the plot.
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (one intermission)
Opening Night: April 18, 2018
Final Performance: May 24, 2018