NEW YORK - Here we go again. Another Irish play about another bunch of drunks. And another Conor McPherson play about spooky events and divine intervention.
Another kind of intervention might be in order here, but The Seafarer, sometimes funny and sometimes sad, features a fine cast that can knock it back with the best of them. The production has transferred from London's National Theatre.
Beneath all the crashing around and the unprintable-here language, this is a Christmas play, intending to warm the cockles of our hearts.
The simple-minded story of redemption by a merciful God begins on Christmas Eve, when Sharky (David Morse) returns home to look after his newly blind brother, Richard (Jim Norton). Ivan (Conleth Hill), who can't find his glasses, joins them, setting up the too-obvious jokey idea of who sees - or doesn't see - what.
Nicky (Sean Mahon), now married to Sharky's ex-wife, joins them, bringing along a mysterious stranger, Mr. Lockhart (Ciaran Hinds).
Sharky is the pivot of the story. His life - jobs, relationships, cars, money - just about defines ne'er-do-well. He wrecks whatever he touches, and David Morse conveys the inner anguish of the man who is nearly silenced by self-rage and desperation.
By the time they move on from whiskey to poteen (what Americans call moonshine), we know that Mr. Lockhart is the Devil, who plans to play poker for Sharky's soul; 25 years before, in a jail cell, they made a Faustian deal. (Ciaran Hinds seems to have watched Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate too many times, missing Pacino's subtle scary humor and going only for the cheap effects.)
The high-stakes card game, which is most of the second act, lacks speed and tension, and we lose sight of the real stakes - eternal damnation - and get absorbed in the money being won and lost. (There may be a moral point about us here, but, theatrically, it's still dull.)
The play's title suggested its connection to a poem in Old English, also "The Seafarer," about a man who wanders the world on a ship. Like Sharky, he is stoic, suffering, lonely, and fearful of his destiny: "Indeed there is not so proud-spirited / a man in the world . . . that he never in his seafaring / has a worry / as to what his Lord / will do to him."
That's the play I wanted to see, not these stage Irishmen, legless and witty, doing the same old thing.
Written and directed by Conor McPherson, set and costumes by Rae Smith, lighting by Neil Austin, sound by Mathew Smethurst-Evans, fight direction by Thomas Schall.
Cast: David Morse (Sharky), Ciaran Hinds (Mr. Lockhart), Conleth Hill (Ivan), Sean Mahon (Nicky), Jim Norton (Richard).