Play review: The Seafarer – Dark humor and soulful considerations

I was blessed to be able to attend this wonderful play at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago last weekend. I can’t recommend it enough–a totally engaging and moving story, beautifully set and acted. Congrats to Steppenwolf and the cast, author and director of this masterpiece.

Christmas Eve morning dawns dark and dreary in a little town in Ireland. We become eavesdroppers on a story of brotherhood, devotion, failure, loss, and shame playing out between several men in a dingy flat’s basement room. We see brother Sharky taking rough but loving care of his blind brother, Richard (played with great verve by John Mahoney, the actor who played down-to-earth dad to his radio psychologist sons in the TV series Frasier). And gradually a few other men drift in.

The play’s author Conor McPherson brings quiet poignance to the matter-of-fact stories of drinking and disasters the five men have been through. The men decide to play cards that Christmas eve night. And while the others are out fighting the back-alley winos (who have the nerve to be drunk and disorderly but, unlike these men, are doing it on the street instead of in their living room), the visiting stranger who’s joined them makes ominous pronouncements to Sharky about a deal he made one day many years ago for his soul. The drinking gets heavier; the betting intensifies. Dark humor graces this tale of life’s demons, and a surprise reveals the grace of ultimate redemption.

If you can only see one play this season (and you don’t mind serious content), see this one. But there’s also a second play by the same author running in the upstairs room. Good for the folks at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.


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