Eve of damnation
The devil, the drink and a stellar cast make for a helluva holiday show for Rogue troupe
Chico, CA 95928
If the program for Rogue Theatre’s production of The Seafarer didn’t explain that the proceedings were taking place in “the house of Richard Harkin in Baldoyle, a coastal settlement north of Dublin,” one could be forgiven for thinking that Duffy’s Tavern was in the process of being relocated a few blocks down to the middle of the 1078 Gallery where the play takes place.
With the Guinness poster, the Jameson Irish Whiskey sign and the kitschy religious decorations hanging on dusty walls and the loads of empty alcohol bottles strewn about, Mr. Harkin’s living room resembled a pub at least as much as it did the disheveled home of a drunk, blind man. And the duality at work in scenic designer Amber Miller’s wonderful fixed set—where home ends up being both a place for celebrating life and for escaping it—does as much work in establishing the characters as the players who occupy it.
And that’s saying a lot, because the assembled cast of local theater all-stars, with their director Joe Hilsee, did some great work here fully living up to the pre-play hype, as well as to the challenge of presenting Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s Tony-nominated story.
The story that takes place in this dingy home revolves around five men who end up playing cards and drinking heavily together on Christmas Eve. There are the brothers: the blind, demanding, hard-drinking Richard (Roger Montalbano) and the visiting Sharkey (Shawn Galloway), home to take care of his brother during the holidays while also taking a break from drinking. Also on hand are neighbor Ivan Curry (Rob Wilson), seeking refuge after being kicked out by his wife for drinking and screwing up Christmas plans, as well as the late-arriving, hyperactive friend of Richard’s (but not so much of Sharkey’s) Nicky Giblin (Jeff Dickenson), who brings with him a stranger he’s been drinking with all night named Mr. Lockhart (Jerry Miller).
The slightly dysfunctional, comical night of holiday revelry takes an ominous turn early on when the mysterious Mr. Lockhart reveals a very serious ulterior motive. He’s there specifically to see Sharkey, and to significantly raise the stakes of the game at hand.
We find out over the course of the evening that each of these men has made bad, sometimes tragic, choices (all made, not surprisingly, after drinking large amounts of alcohol), but for this night, it’s Sharkey who’ll be facing his past.
Despite what appears to be a pretty downer scenario, The Seafarer is actually the perfect holiday play. There’s hard stuff on the table for sure, but even the most horrific of past deeds turns out to be less troubling after being exposed by the Christmas lights than when they were kept hidden in the dark. At its heart, it’s just a Christmas Eve scene playing out like a lot of our Christmas Eves do. The holiday that brings everyone together also often brings up everyone’s collective pasts, both the nostalgia as well as the regret.
Since they all were so fun to watch, it’s a little unfair to single any one player out here, but I have to say that Montalbano was perfectly cast. His razor-sharp timing made great use of McPherson’s snappy dialogue, and he exuded a gleefully cranky wiseassness throughout that was irresistible. It was also great to see newcomer Galloway in a local production. His Ashland Shakespeare Fest pedigree was evident in how committed he was to Sharkey’s range of emotions.
Everyone was great, though. Miller was vicious and hilarious as Mr. Lockhart; Wilson evoked a pathetic endearment for the sweet lush Ivan; and Dickenson played up the clueless, pub-crawling party-boy Nicky to hilarious effect. There were really no standouts in this cast. And that’s a marvelous thing. It is a true ensemble piece.