City Theatre's The Seafarer

Karen Sneed's staging is shot through with compassion for the play's hard-luck, hard-drinking Irishmen

Won’t see another one... (l-r): Rick Felkins, Rick Smith, Scot Friedman, Steve Wright, and Garry Peters in The Seafarer (Photo by Aleks Ortynski)

"It was Christmas Eve, babe

In the drunk tank

An old man said to me, 'Won't see another one' ..."

I don't know if the Pogues' 1988 "Fairytale of New York" is supposed to start Conor McPherson's The Seafarer or if music and sound designer Carl Ziegler just ... knew. Either way, it's the perfect song to begin the beer-and-whiskey-drenched yuletide tale. In McPherson-esque fashion, though, there's a bit of a supernatural twist to the holiday happenings onstage at City Theatre.

The twist comes at a deliciously frustrating moment. Delicious because it comes so far out of left field, flying so hard in the face of the established rules of the play that one can't help but be immediately engaged. Frustrating because it makes the rest of the play damned hard to review without giving it all away. Frankly, I've probably said too much already. Make like the lovable characters of McPherson's world, have a slug of Irish whiskey and forget what you've just read. I'll wait.

Good? Good.

The most charming thing about this well-acted and well-directed play is that you can feel these Irishmen feeling Christmas. Everyone is burdened with their own problems, sure, but they're all able to recognize the season and adapt their troubles accordingly. Director Karen Sneed shows as much compassion for her characters as they have for each other, never allowing the show to become just a bunch of boring old white guys talking.

Down-on-his-luck Sharky has recently returned home to take care of his older brother Rick, who's been blinded by an accident. Their old friend Ivan has been looking after Rick before Sharky's return. They spend Christmas Eve morning recovering from hangovers (except for Sharky, who's off the drink) and planning for the evening before heading out on a shopping trip. The afternoon sees visitors Nicky (now living with Sharky's ex-girlfriend) and his new friend Mr. Lockhart drop by for a bit of well-wishing, which leads to the entire group staying for a proper Christmas Eve poker game. Let's just say the stakes of the game are quite high.

Alcohol may as well be its own character, afflicting the actions and decisions of just about everyone. Most of the script revolves around drinking in one way or another. Sharky is a bit of a sad sack for whom drinking never seems to end well. In his understated performance, Steve Wright gives the character a lack of charisma essential to the role, though as an actor his energy drops frequently as a result. As Richard, Rick Felkins is just plain fun to watch as he constantly fumbles his way toward his next drink, inebriated with Christmas cheer. As Ivan, who spends most of the play looking for his glasses and/or his own next drink, Rick Smith is an absolute joy even as his wife throws him out on Christmas Eve. Scot Friedman's Nicky is a bit of an arrogant show-off, with a clever mix of awkwardness to boot. As Mr. Lockhart, the lone stranger of the group, Garry Peters displays a compelling sternness, giving the character a vacant power that's interesting to watch.

Artistic Director Andy Berkovsky's set (painted by Jennifer Cunningham) is perfectly detailed; every flaw in Rick's dingy flat is a beloved memory. Berkovsky handles the lighting as well, which plays perfectly to that dinginess. No dialect coach is listed, but save for a few inconsistencies, the Irish accents work well.

The Seafarer hosts two different ideas: one in a two-act through line, the other a separate thread weaving its way into and around the entirety of the second act. With plenty of lean-in moments and relatable characters, audiences are likely to find themselves quite satisfied with the balance of holiday cheer and "Oooooh!" factor.

The Seafarer

City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 512/524-2870
Through Nov. 26
Running time: 2 hr., 20 min.

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City Theatre Company, Conor McPherson, Karen Sneed, Rick Felkins, Rick Smith, Steve Wright, Garry Peters, Scot Friedman, Andy Berkovsky, Jennifer Cunningham, Carl Ziegler

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