Shimerman shines in The Rep’s Seafarer
DEVIL AND DRUNK–Sam Woodhouse (left) and Armin Shimerman converse in The Seafarer, now at San Diego Rep. (Photo: Erin Bigley)
By Carol Davis
SAN DIEGO–I’m sorry to say I’m not much of a Trekkie so I’m not up on all the Star Trek comings and goings. Armin Shimerman was a regular for seven years on the Television hit show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. According to my findings his fictional character, Quark owned a bar on the Promenade of Deep Space Nine. I do admit to watching the original Sci Fi TV show when it debuted in 1966 and I did visit the Star Trek museum in Las Vegas several years ago (There was a simulated ride into space, I believe.), which I found to be interesting, but no cigars just a rumbly tummy and shaky legs.
I am however a theatre person and I do know a bit about good performances and ho hum performances. Armin Shimerman’s portrayal of the perpetual drunk, blind and belligerent rascal Richard Harkin in Connor McPherson’s The Seafarer is top notch. If I didn’t know he was Jewish and born in Lakewood, New Jersey, I would have vouched he was Irish, his accent seems so natural, and he’s so damned genuine in this role. That’s what good actors do; they make us believers.
The Seafarer at The San Diego Repertory Theatre downtown, in the Lyceum Theatre, under the deft direction of Decilia Turner Sonnenberg will be entertaining crowds with this not so laugh out loud (or maybe so) holiday treat through Dec. 13. It is the Rep’s 34th season and what a way to kick off a season with an Irish, black humor view (according to McPherson) of the joys of Christmas. I must say the differences between Jewish humor and Irish humor are seas apart according to Davis, Carol that is.
The Seafarer made its National Theatre debut in 2006 almost ten years after his first play The Weir (seen at the Old Globe some years ago) was mounted and premiered. Several years ago I happened to catch a production at the Rubicon Theatre in Venture of McPherson’s The Good Thief performed by Conor Lovett. At the time they were staging a series of monologues running in repertory and one such reading was McPherson’s The Good Thief. It was written in 1994. At the time I saw The Good Thief I was non-plussed by the piece but taken with the performance. So it goes with live theatre.
The play opens in the disheveled (littered with beer and whiskey bottles scattered all over in the living room) basement flat at the childhood home, somewhere off the coast in Northern Dublin, of Richard Harkin and his brother Sharky (an effective, downtrodden but truly credible Ron Choularton). The Leprechaun looking Richard, who recently fell, hit his head on a dumpster on Halloween and lost his eyesight lives in the home alone. But he’s not alone for long. (Robin Sanford Roberts set is one of the best seen in some time on that stage with detail upon detail to give the feel of a well lived in slovenly bashed pad of a bachelor who spends his Euros on whiskey rather than a housekeeper.)
Sharky, who is without a job, cash or prospects of either, has come to help his brother out and be his eyes. The night before we meet the brothers some heavy drinking took place with Richard and Ivan Curry (Paul James Kruse is a wonderfully disheveled and willing participant), a good friend of the Harkin brothers. Sharky has been on the wagon for the last three days and is still a bit unsteady, tense and short of temper yet he is left to pick up the pieces of the morning after remains.
Ivan, we learn, had to spend the night in one of the rooms sleeping it off on a rug on the floor (no bed in the room) for several reasons, the most important is that he could barely see how to get home because he couldn’t find his glasses (he’s not too much better off than Richard in the eye department) nor could he walk the straight line to find to his house (his wife would have killed him anyway for losing his glasses) and he couldn’t remember where or if he left his car.
Over the course of the day, two more visitors come to the Harkin homestead, Nicky Giblin (handsome and winning Robert J. Townsend) a long time friend and adversary of Sharky’s (he’s thick with Sharky’s ex girlfriend and continues to rub it in, to Sharky’s chagrin) and a mysterious stranger, Mr. Lockhart (Artistic Director Sam Woodhouse looks imposing dressed to the nines in a camel hair top coat, black fedora and three piece suit with blinding white hair and eyebrows) who was invited by his new friend Nicky to come along for the annual Christmas eve card game. One has to wonder though as we learn more, who invited whom. (Jennifer Brawn Gittings is on spot with her costume designs.)
And now there were five. Compared to Richard and Ivan, who look like they had slept in their clothes for days (Richard had) Lockhart looks and acts oddly out of place. Could it be because he was? You see Lockhart (nice play on words) is the Devil/Lucifer himself comin’ round to collect on Sharky’s soul because some twenty-five years after their first meeting in some jail on charges that were later dismissed, Lockhart supposedly arranged for him to be released rather than spend jail time for the crime.
The only thing that can save Sharky from losing his soul to the Devil, a deal they made long ago in exchange for Sharky’s release, is to beat Lockhart in a game of winner-take-all, high stakes poker. Lockhart is back and in a sinister no prisoners taken speech to a confused and shaken Sharky, he spells out the rules. And, oh by the way, Happy Christmas.
It is Christmas Eve day and between the drinking, hostile and familial wrangling between the brothers we learn more about the characters, their weaknesses and strengths and how their lives will be changed, unbeknownst to them, by the time Christmas Day rolls around. We may even learn more than we want to know.
We are also are left to ponder what we just saw at plays end and in a not so funny, dark and somber sort of way. There is an abundance of talk, drink and philosophy about heaven and hell and some funny exchanges about drinking, Irish style that is, that might tickle some.
It might also appeal to some senses if you enjoy watching grown men drunk, falling, tripping and stumbling all over themselves while functioning through the haze and blur of an alcoholic stupor. What is intriguing is the menacing spell Lockhart has over them all, though. Forget the fact that they don’t know why he’s there, that he towers head and shoulders above any of them and his deep resonant voice and menacing smile is enough to frighten any one of them to sobriety, he just has that mesmerizing effect. (With the exception of a tentative and somewhat weird accent, Woodhouse is most effective.)
Adding to the mystery of his being is that his character is real to them and feeds into the Satanic leanings and deep mystical teachings of those so inclined to believe in Heaven and Hell while conversely the sometimes lighted picture of Jesus hanging askew on the wall blinks off and on, they sing/shout out Christmas songs to their own delight as the scrawny little Christmas tree at the foot of the stairs winks randomly at them throughout. (Eric Lotze’s lighting is amazing and effective as sparks of lightning flash when Lockhart raises his arms to prove his powers which in turn outlines the stones that make up the walls of the Harkin home as he does so.)
Finally, the poker game gives way as the tension mounts and hands are bet, won and lost by everyone but Lockhart who plans to win the BIG one, the last hand that comes down to himself and Sharky. We never know until the very end, how it will go, but we do have an idea. For you the reader, to see is to believe and in an astonishingly surprise turn of events…well.
The Seafarer’s holiday theme is a dark journey into a no man’s land dressed up with some Irish comic relief that makes the rest of the play at least palatable with The Rep’s ensemble pretty much up to the task pretty much most of the time. On opening night, though a little more group cohesion and work on those on again off again Irish accents was needed. By now it should be easily flowing so let the games begin!
The Seafarer is a poem that comes from a collection of Old English Poetry kept in the Exeter Cathedral, England, written anonymously about a “wretched sailor driven to roam the frozen seas”.
He knows not
Who lives most easily on land, how I
Have spent my winter on the ice-cold sea
Wretched and anxious, in the paths of exile
Lacking dear friends, hung round by icicles
While hail flew past in showers,”
Take comfort. It is billed as holiday play. It’s a Wonderful Life can also be seen later on at the Cygnet if you prefer traditional fare. The North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach is also mounting a holiday show, How Do You Spell Chanukah? It opens Dec. 5th. See them one see them all.
For more information visit http://www.sdrep.org
See you at the theater.
Davis is a San Diego-based theatre critic. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org