‘The Seafarer’ at Elden Street Players by Julia L. Exline

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Elden Street Players presents The Seafarer, a black comedy written by Conor McPherson. Just in time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this hauntingly genuine Irish tale explores deep themes like despair, redemption, and the laughter that breaches the gap between. This production is beautifully directed by Angie Anderson.

Set Designer Tod Kerr creates a lived-in home that teeters on a fine line; shabby but swept, unkempt but respected. Tattered, mismatched furniture sits upon threadbare rugs, and the wallpaper is faded and old-fashioned. However, someone has gone through the trouble of decorating for Christmas, with a somewhat sad-looking tree sitting in the corner and Santa figurines lovingly placed on the mantle. Things have a rightful place; a stack of cards sits neatly tucked away, quilts and blankets are tidily folded. Catholic influences like crucifixes, nativity scenes, and portraits of Jesus are seen throughout the space. There is a heartbreaking air about this place, as if the effort and care is there, but the demand of upkeep is too high for the occupants. Jill L. Kerr handles Set Painting and Design, and Nanette Reynolds the Set Dressing and Properties, and both do a fine, detailed job. Truly, it almost seems as if the set is its own character.

The cast of 'The Seafarer': Bill Fleming, Scott Bailey, Todd C. Huse, Mark Adams and Ian Mark Brown. Photo courtesy of Elden Street Players.
The cast of ‘The Seafarer’: Bill Fleming, Scott Bailey, Todd C. Huse, Mark Adams and Ian Mark Brown. Photo courtesy of Elden Street Players.

Costume Designer Judy Whelihan matches the character’s clothes to the house; the garments are nice, but thoroughly wrinkled. Lighting Designer Franklin C. Coleman uses soft blues and blaring reds to enhance emotion, as well as “practicals;” working electrical sockets used for the tree lights…and a plug-in cross. Sound Designer Stan Harris completes the atmosphere with effects like wind, rain, music, and telephone rings.

It’s Christmas Eve north of Dublin City, and the Harkin house is awakening to one hell of a hangover. Richard Harkin (Scott Bailey) emerges from behind the sofa, empty bottle in hand and with only one arm slung through his evening jacket. When his brother James “Sharky” (Bill Fleming) emerges, one can easily assume that he is another victim of a night of hard drinking, until it is revealed that he is attempting sobriety, and that his bleary-eyed nature is instead a mixture of exhaustion and sadness. He has moved back home after losing his job, and is looking after Richard, who was recently blinded in an accident. Richard, hot-tempered and loud, shouts demands at his brother while his friend Ivan Curry (Mark Adams) appears from upstairs, disheveled and feeling his way about, as he has lost his glasses. The pair steadily sneaks drinks as Sharky fumbles about, feebly trying to clean a mess that outpaces him. Subtext is a large element in this play—fractured relationships, blame, and strain is evident under the “joking” dialogue, as Richard exclaims, “I don’t know who’s looking after who.” When Sharky discovers that Richard has invited his love-rival, the lively but shallow Nicky Giblin (Ian Mark Brown) over for a game of poker that evening, the tension escalates.

The drinks keep flowing into the night as Nicky arrives with a mysterious stranger, Mr. Lockhart (Todd C. Huse). Lockhart has a refined, composed creepiness about him, and reveals to Sharky his true nature, and that the stakes in this poker game are much higher than Sharky could have ever imagined. It’s the game of a lifetime—literally. Who will prevail?

The performances in this play are incredibly intelligent—which is a tricky feat, considering that most of the characters spend the entire show stumbling around in a drunken haze. The actors are all hugely talented and make each character fully believable, even when they are met with a supernatural element. Bill Fleming gives Sharky a sweetly tragic air about him—a lonely man consumed in his own personal grief. Scott Bailey plays the rougher side of the same coin as the irritable Richard, and Mark Adams provides much of the comic relief as the clumsy, woebegone Ivan.

McPherson’s script is beautifully written, including a truly frightening description of hell, told by Lockhart, which will stay with me forever. Unspoken thoughts, anger, and resentments ripple under the festive scene like an electric currant, and is thrilling to watch. While thinking of a way to describe the direction of this production, my mind kept circling back to the word “lovingly,” because it is crisply clear in the execution that this show is tenderly loved by all those involved.

Deep, thought-provoking, and darkly funny, Elden Street Players’ The Seafarer is  one production you must see!

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

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The Seafarer plays through April 6, 2013 at Elden Street Players – 269 Sunset Park Drive, in Herndon, VA. For tickets, call (703) 481- 5930, or order them online.