Tuesday, February 7, 2012

And the award for best drama goes to...

Jason Haws as Sharky, Christian Doyle as Nicky and Dennis Rolly as Mr. Lockhart

 Jason Haws, David Wright as Richard, and Daniel Guttenberg as Ivan.
Daniel Guttenberg, Jason Haws and David Wright. 
Photos by Scot Whitney

The Seafarer at Harlequin

“The Seafarer” by Conor McPherson at Harlequin Productions is the best drama I’ve seen so far this year and one of the top two or three I’ve seen since I started reviewing plays nine years ago. If you’re curious, other shows on my top list are August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” at Seattle Rep and Israel Horovitz’s “Sins of the Mother” at Harlequin.

This is top-notch theater. The script is outstanding. McPherson, an Irish playwright, nails the lives of working class Irish drunks, and he reveals through well-scripted dialogue and action the best and the worst in humankind. His characters delve into the depths of remorse and depression and hopelessness but come out rejuvenated and redeemed.

The acting by the ensemble cast of David Wright, Daniel Guttenberg, Jason Haws, Christian Doyle and Dennis Rolly is as good as any troupe of actors anywhere. You’d have to go to Broadway or Hollywood to find comparable actors, and they gel in magical fashion under the direction of Scot Whitney.

The five men in “The Seafarer” are slovenly drunkards, and they can be mean, and they are perhaps not too awfully bright. But in the end most of them are likeable in their own ways.

Richard Harken (Wright) is a crotchety old man who thinks he may not have too long to live. He recently lost his eyesight in a bizarre accident and now he depends on his little brother, Sharky (Haws), to help him out. He treats Sharky more like a slave than like a brother, and Sharky puts up with it. Sharky, who has been away but has come home to take care of Richard, has a troubled past that included time in jail.

The entire play takes place in Richard’s apartment in a community near Dublin. It opens on the morning of Christmas Eve. The place is a mess. There are beer cans everywhere, remnants of the previous evening’s drunkenness. Sharky comes downstairs and starts picking up the beer cans. He startles Richard, who is sleeping on the floor, having been unable to make it upstairs to his bedroom the previous evening. Soon Ivan (Guttenberg) emerges from an upstairs room, groggy and disoriented. He also slept on the floor, and he has lost his glasses and misplaced his car.

It’s not long before the guys start drinking again, and a prodigious amount of beer and whiskey is consumed in the course of the day. But not by Sharky. He has sworn off drinking and has two whole days sober.

Another friend arrives, Nicky (Doyle), who is Richard’s friend but definitely no friend of Sharky’s. And Nicky brings a stranger with him, the very neatly dressed and polite but odd Mr. Lockhart.

There is more than one underlying mystery to this story, and there are supernatural elements that I can’t write about without spoiling the plot. The only other thing I can reveal without spoiling it is that there is a very high stakes poker game. There is mystery and high drama, and a lot of humor. And I can’t praise the acting enough.

Wright is outstanding as Richard. He’s believable as a newly blind man, and his emotional outbursts and sudden changes of mood can be as hilarious as they are painful. We laugh with him and at him. He also provides a lot of physical comedy when he flails about with his walking stick and all the others have to duck out of his way. Doyle in particular does the physical bits with perfect timing. He has taught stage fighting and has choreographed big fight scenes for many area theaters, and he makes it seem easy.

Haws plays Sharky with intense quiet. You can tell that he hates being there, and he hates having to wait on Richard hand and foot, but he doesn’t complain. He holds it all in, and the audience can sense he’s about to explode, which of course he does. Haws’s intensity, bottle-up restraint and range of emotions is evident throughout.

Guttenberg, the only one of the actors who is not a Harlequin veteran, is a natural as the slow-witted, besotted and perpetually confused Ivan. He talks slowly and doesn’t seem to be able to focus, and he does it so naturally that it’s hard to believe he’s really an actor and not some drunken stumblebum they found on the street and told to just be himself.

It’s impossible to describe Rolly’s acting without giving too much away. Suffice it to say he’s been in more plays than most people have ever even watched, and if this is not his best role ever it’s awfully close.

The set by Linda Whitney is marvelous -- wonderfully simple but well designed with two flights of stairs and translucent windows lighted from behind, great textured wall treatments and open-ended ceiling beams. The props are nicely chosen – a light-up Jesus sacred heart, a ratty old couch and easy chair, a woodburning stove, and all those empty bottles and cans. It’s particularly nice that the action never has to be interrupted to change sets and props.

Kudos also to David Nail for excellently subdued lighting design, and to Darren Mills for costumes so perfect they look uncostumed.

The language is earthy and filled with Irish slang. To help the audience along there is a glossary of slang expressions in the printed program. It’s not really needed because everything is clear in context, but it is fun to read. They use a lot of words that would give a movie an R rating. They say fuck a lot – or, considering the brogue, fock. To Richard they’re all focking eejits.

If you only see one play this season this should be the one.

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Feb. 18
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; http://www.harlequinproductions.org/

1 comment:

MS said...

I have seen a couple of plays at the Harlequin, most I did not particularly care for or at best were somewhat entertaining. And I didn't even really want to see this one (drunken Irishmen? sounds depressing), except my friend had won free tickets. But I have to agree with Alec: this was THE BEST THEATER I have seen in a long time! Yes, the theme was dark but as he mentioned, it had some very funny moments, it was so well acted, everything was excellent in every way, cast, setting, script. Don't let the dour play description turn you away --