- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

In “The Seafarer,” Conor McPherson’s despairing comedy about Irish alcoholics and long-entrenched family rivalries, the devil pays a visit to a Dublin hovel on Christmas Eve. He is noted not for his cloven hooves and forked tail, but for his elegant demeanor and taste for poker and North Country moonshine.

Mr. Lockhart (Philip Goodwin), as Lucifer is known in this case, may be on the hunt for souls to take back to hell, but he’s as flawed and pursued by demons as the rest of us. This mingling of the supernatural and the prosaic is one of the lovely flourishes of Mr. McPherson’s Gaelic spin on the Faust legend, which is receiving an atmospheric but ultimately underwhelming production at Studio Theatre. Under the direction of Paul Mullins, the play, which is essentially an emotionally bleak work, instead is rendered as an affectionate look at a gang of cuddly Irish drunks.

Alcoholism isn’t pretty, in Dublin or Dubuque. Yet this raggle-taggle collection of incorrigible tipplers makes boozing so becoming you might be tempted to have a go at a lost weekend yourself. They’re losers, but lovable. Still, you wonder if that is what the playwright intended instead of what was seen and felt in the hard-edged and clear-eyed production offered in New York last season.

Topping the list of blessed sots is Richard (Floyd King), newly blind because of a dumpster accident and seemingly hangover-free because he never really stops drinking from one day to the next. He’s demanding and gifted with the antagonistic banter, which he mostly directs toward his brother Sharky (Billy Meleady), a ne’er-do-well with a hair-trigger temper who’s trying to stay on the wagon. Balancing out Sharky’s palpable sense of desperation and loathing are two friends: Ivan (Edward Gero), an amiable boozer who shuffles around like a beleaguered basset hound, and Nicky (Jeff Allin), a guy perpetually on the game.

Nicky is the one who brings Mr. Lockhart to the brothers’ home after a long day of pub-crawling. Mr. Lockhart seems just in the mood for the odd drink and a game of cards, but he’s playing for Sharky’s soul. The questions are: Is Sharky worth saving? Is he capable of 11th-hour salvation?

Profound questions, indeed. However, themes of forgiveness and redemption - and the terrible persistence of loneliness and isolation - get washed away in this staging.

Russell Metheny’s set depicts a dilapidated bachelor pad right down to the moldy carpet and patched leather sofa, but this authenticity does not extend to the performances. The cast does not jell as an ensemble, and the actors never are convincing as long-term drinking buddies or family members.

Mr. Goodwin’s icy turn as the seemingly in-control Mr. Lockhart produces much-needed shivers, a sharp contrast to the unexpected flashes of warmth and humanity conveyed by Mr. Allin as the flashy hustler Nicky. Mr. King and Mr. Gero are sublime clowns, but that may not be the best tack for these hopeless characters.

★★

WHAT: “The Seafarer” by Conor McPherson

WHERE: Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 22

TICKETS: $34 to $61

PHONE: 202/332-3300

WEB SITE: www.studiotheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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